The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) confirmed on Tuesday night, January 25, that Villar’s Advanced Media Broadcasting System (AMBS) has been awarded provisional authority to operate Channel 16, which was ABS-CBN’s digital TV frequency.
The NTC also issued AMBS a temporary permit “for simulcast purposes” over the analog Channel 2, effective January 6 until the analog shutoff in 2023.
“The temporary assignment was granted to ensure service to both analog and digital TV signal users as the country transitions to full digital TV,” said the commission.
The NTC said it sought the legal opinion of the Department of Justice and the concurrence of the Office of the Executive Secretary. Villar’s daughter-in-law Emmeline Aglipay-Villar is a justice undersecretary. Emmeline’s husband is former public works secretary Mark Villar, who was part of the Duterte Cabinet but resigned to run for senator in the 2022 elections.
Villar’s daughter, Las Piñas City Representative Camille Villar, was among the lawmakers who thumbed down ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal bid in 2020. Media groups and rights advocates called the House of Representatives’ move an affront to press freedom.
AMBS, according to the commission, “was the first applicant for an authority to install, operate, and maintain a digital TV in Metro Manila,” with its application filed over 15 years ago or on October 5, 2006.
“AMBS has been waiting for an available digital TV frequency since 2006 and has been undergoing a quasi-judicial process which includes notice to all interested/affected parties and hearing,” said the NTC.
In 2019, AMBS’ franchise was extended for another 25 years. At the time, the Vera family was still the owner of the company that has operated one AM and three FM radio stations.
It has operations in Metro Manila and General Santos City.
In a Senate hearing in September 2021, AMBS president Andrew Santiago said the broadcasting company took a hit when the pandemic struck. DWKX 103.5 FM had to lay off its DJs.
Because of this, Santiago said the company decided to accept Villar-led Planet Cable’s offer to purchase a controlling stake, subject to the approval of Congress.
Santiago also said in the September 2021 hearing that AMBS intends to venture outside of entertainment, possibly into news.
When sought for comment, vice presidential aspirant Senator Francis Pangilinan said the NTC should tell the public how the awarding of frequencies played out.
“The NTC should explain how the decision was arrived at and should explain if the process allowed other interested parties to participate in applying for the said frequencies,” Pangilinan said on Wednesday, January 26.
ABS-CBN, which drew the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte, was ordered to shut down its free TV and radio operations after its franchise expired in May 2020. This was followed by the House rejection in July 2020.