NTC: Granting ABS-CBN temporary permit an ‘encroachment’ on Congress’ powers

Mara Cepeda

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NTC: Granting ABS-CBN temporary permit an ‘encroachment’ on Congress’ powers
NTC officials apologize to Congress, saying they 'intended no disrespect' when they ordered the ABS-CBN shutdown despite earlier committing to grant it a provisional authority to operate

SHUTDOWN. The facade of ABS-CBN lights up in the network's color after the NTC issued a cease and desist order against it on May 5, 2020. File photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The National Telecommunications Commission defended its shutdown order against ABS-CBN, telling lawmakers that it would have encroached on Congress’ powers if the NTC had given the media giant a provisional authority to operate.

The following NTC officials made the statement in response to the show cause order of the House committee on legislative franchises, which demanded an explanation on why they should not be held in contempt for the ABS-CBN shutdown:

  • Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba
  • Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios
  • Deputy Commissioner Delilah Deles
  • Legal Branch Head Ella Lopez

In their letter on Thursday, May 14, the NTC officials said their review of the Constitution, laws, and jurisprudence convinced them against granting a temporary permit to operate to ABS-CBN, which they had promised made during the House panel’s first hearing on the franchise issue on March 10.

Months later, on May 5, the NTC ordered ABS-CBN to shut down its television and radio operations after its franchise expired on May 4.  

“In the end, NTC’s collective assessment was that the Constitution, the laws, and jurisprudence provided insurmountable obstacles to the issuance of a PA (provisional authority), notwithstanding equitable considerations. If the NTC were to issue a PA, it would have amounted to an encroachment into the exclusive domain of Congress,” the NTC officials said.  

They said they “intended no disrespect” to lawmakers by going back on their commitment.

“Please rest assured that we intended no disrespect whatsoever towards Congress. On the contrary, it was precisely NTC’s full respect and recognition for Congress’ sole prerogatives that led it to desist from issuing a PA and, thereafter, to conclude that it was legally bound to issue a CDO (cease and desist order),” the NTC officials said. 

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevara previously argued that a provisional authority from the NTC would have been enough to keep ABS-CBN operating while Congress deliberated on its franchise renewal bills. 

But retired Supreme Court (SC) chief justice Reynato Puno and retired SC justice Angelina Sandoval Gutierrez said an NTC permit granted to ABS-CBN without a franchise will run counter to a 2003 High Court ruling. (READ: IBP head warns gov’t: NTC permit to ABS can be challenged

In 2003, the SC ruled in the ACWS vs NTC case that the NTC cannot grant a provisional permit to a broadcaster that no longer has a franchise – the same situation ABS-CBN now finds itself in. 

In a separate statement, House panel chair Franz Alvarez said they will “duly consider” the NTC officials’ explanation and apology. 

“We shall advise the NTC in due course of the committee’s actions with regard to the foregoing matters,” Alvarez said. 

Cayetano had earlier said that the “betrayal” of the NTC and the “unconstitutional meddling” of Solicitor General Jose Calida were to blame for ABS-CBN’s closure, even when he himself had been criticized for delaying the ABS-CBN hearings for months. 

The House is already poised to approve a bill – penned by Cayetano and 7 other House leaders – that would grant ABS-CBN a temporary franchise until October 2020. 

Cayetano said the lower chamber planned to resume hearings on the issue in August to September, as he did not want the proceedings to remain unfinished once his 15-month term as Speaker ends in October.

Read a full copy of the NTC’s letter below:

– Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.