After days of silence, embattled Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano washed his hands of the ABS-CBN shutdown, blaming it on the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and the “unconstitutional meddling” of Solicitor General Jose Calida.
Cayetano said this in a lengthy Facebook post on Friday, May 8 – 3 days after the NTC issued a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN – where he explained why the House leadership shelved the ABS-CBN franchise bills even with the nearing expiration of the media network's franchise.
"Last Tuesday, we were all ambushed by the NTC," said Cayetano, who has been blamed for the ABS-CBN shutdown.
“As for the sudden flip-flopping of the NTC and the unconstitutional meddling by the Solicitor General in the business of Congress, I promise you – there will be a reckoning,” the Speaker added.
He said the House felt assured by the earlier commitment of the NTC before the House committee on legislative franchises that the agency would issue ABS-CBN a provisional authority to operate beyond May 4 – the expiry date of its franchise – while Congress deliberated on the franchise renewal bills.
Cayetano said the NTC was apparently pressured by Calida.
“Despite their assurance given under oath. Despite the legal opinion of the Department of Justice. Despite a resolution from the Senate, and several verbal and written assurances given to Congress – the NTC appears to have succumbed to pressure from the Solicitor General, and issued a cease and desist order to ABS-CBN,” he added.
Calida, for his part, had said that Congress was to blame for the ABS-CBN shutdown. (READ: Calida: Blame Congress, not me, for off-the-air ABS-CBN)
Since the media giant's closure, Cayetano had been taking the heat from the public as ABS-CBN's franchise renewal – despite its nearing expiration – was never a House priority when he became Speaker in July 2019. (READ: Cayetano: ‘Congress is not here to comfort ABS-CBN’)
Both President Rodrigo Duterte and Cayetano, running mates in the 2016 elections, had accused the network of unfair coverage. In December 2019, Duterte himself said "sorry" to ABS-CBN in advance as it would not get a renewed franchise. "I will see to it that you're out," Duterte said then.
Cayetano said in the past that he found no urgency for the House – where all franchise bills should be tackled first according to the Constitution – to prioritize the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, saying lawmakers had to first focus on other administration bills.
The first bill renewing the network's franchise was first filed during the Benigno Aquino III administration in the 16th Congress in September 2014, but it remained pending before the House committee of legislative franchises. Versions of the measure were then refiled in both the 17th Congress and the current 18th Congress under the Duterte presidency, but the franchise was still not renewed. (READ: What's taking Congress so long to tackle ABS-CBN's franchise?)
Instead, the Speaker had insisted that a temporary permit from NTC would be sufficient to stop the network’s closure. It would also buy lawmakers more time to deliberate on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal bills.
The House committee on legislative franchises held its first and only hearing, so far, on the ABS-CBN franchise renewal on March 10, where NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba told lawmakers the agency would “most likely” give ABS-CBN the provisional authority to operate beyond May 4.
As law experts had long warned, this assurance was not enough, as the delay in the House hearings gave Calida an opportunity to exert pressure on the NTC to issue the closure order.
Senators, on the other hand, issued a resolution urging NTC to reconsider its shutdown order against ABS-CBN.
Message to critics
Responding to his critics in and outside the House, Cayetano said: "You are free to say what you will. As we are free to respond in our own way." (READ: 'Pagkukulang niya ito sa bayan': Lawmakers blame Cayetano for ABS-CBN shutdown)
On Friday, the Speaker hinted that the House panel would soon resume hearing the ABS-CBN franchise issue, but did not give a specific date.
“So for those asking what Congress will do – the answer is simple – our job. The committee on legislative franchises will conduct hearings in a manner that is consistent with what we have always said. That is – fair, impartial, thorough, and comprehensive,” Cayetano said.