Congressmen could have acted fast on bills seeking to renew ABS-CBN's franchise had the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) not promised them it would issue the network a provisional permit.
ABS-CBN broadcaster Anthony Taberna zeroed in on this point when he grilled NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarrios on national radio and TV on Tuesday afternoon, May 5, following the NTC’s order to shut down the network.
Cabarrios was interviewed on ABS-CBN’s DZMM radio by Taberna and his co-hosts Alvin Elchico and Gerry Baja moments after the NTC released a cease-and-desist order (CDO) to the network, whose government-granted franchise expired on Monday, May 4.
During the interview, Cabarrios insisted that ABS-CBN must stop broadcasting until Congress renews its franchise. Without it, “provisional authority” or a temporary permit to operate from the NTC would have no legal basis.
In March, as Congress deliberated the network’s fate while bills renewing its franchise were pending, it was agreed that the Senate and House of Representatives would issue a joint resolution authorizing the NTC to give ABS-CBN provisional authority to stay on air.
Cabarrios went on record that the NTC would issue that temporary permit, and only a court order could stop it.
Since no court of law had issued any order to withhold a temporary permit, why did the NTC suddenly back down on its own word?
“Kung hindi kayo nangako sa Kongreso – sa House, sa Senate – sa mga empleyado ng ABS-CBN, at mga iba pang umaasa dito, na magbibigay kayo ng provisional authority, disin sana inaksiyunan na ito ng Kongreso during the short period of time na mayroon sila before Congress went on recess,” Taberna told Cabarrios.
(If you did not promise Congress – the House, the Senate – employees of ABS-CBN, and others who depend on it, that you would give provisional authority, then Congress would have taken action during the short period of time it had before it went on recess.)
“Kung nanindigan na lang sana kayo noon, nung araw pa na tinatanong kayo ng mga congressman at senador, na hindi uubra, eh hindi sana tayo aabot sa ganito,” the broadcaster added. (If you put your foot down then, when the congressmen and senators were asking you, that it wouldn’t work, then we wouldn’t have gotten to this.)
“Ang susunod pang punto doon, wala bang weight o timbang sa inyo ang mga resolusyon ng Kongreso, number one; at number two, 'yung mabigat na legal opinion ng Department of Justice?” Taberna said.
(The next point is, do the Congress resolutions, number one, or number two, the weighty legal opinion of the Department of Justice, bear no weight to you at all?)
The DOJ on Monday told reporters that it “stands by its position that there is sufficient equitable basis to allow broadcast entities to continue operating while the bills for the renewal of their franchise remain pending with Congress.”
There are 9 bills seeking to renew the ABS-CBN franchise pending with Congress. The House of Representatives has deferred tackling these measures, when President Rodrigo Duterte was angry at the network for supposedly swindling him when it failed to air some of his political ads in the run-up to the 2016 elections.
Measures seeking to grant ABS-CBN a fresh franchise to broadcast for another 25 years have been re-filed at the House as far back as July 2019. Before that, the government had been anticipating the expiry of the network's old franchise. However, with Duterte's ire aimed at ABS-CBN, lawmakers delayed taking action on those bills.
In one of the hearings in March, ABS-CBN president Carlo Katigbak explained the matter and apologized to Duterte. Following this, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra suggested that the House and the Senate may issue a joint resolution authorizing the NTC to give ABS-CBN a temporary permit to operate beyond May 4, until Congress legislates the network’s renewed franchise.
On Monday, however, Solicitor General Jose Calida told the NTC that only Congress has the power to renew broadcast franchises.
During the interview on DZMM, Cabarrios argued that a temporary permit from the NTC would not be valid in ABS-CBN’s case because the validity of its franchise had been questioned, and it was not simply awaiting renewal by Congress.
In February, Calida filed a quo warranto case with the Supreme Court, accusing ABS-CBN of violating its congressional franchise by offering pay-per-view services, usurping other companies’ franchises through mergers, and of having foreign ownership.
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.