House panel to NTC: Explain why you shouldn't be held in contempt for ABS-CBN closure order

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 11) — The House Committee on Legislative Franchises on Monday ordered the National Telecommunications Commission to explain its decision directing ABS-CBN Corporation to shut down its broadcast operations.

House panel chair Franz Alvarez demanded that NTC officials explain why they shouldn't be held in contempt for not keeping their word to congressmen that the commission will give ABS-CBN a temporary license to operate. Instead of holding its promise, NTC issued a cease and desist order on May 5 — forcing ABS-CBN's free TV channels and radio stations to go off air.

"The act of the NTC constitutes undue interference and disobedience to the exercise of the power of the House of Representatives, and therefore, an affront to its dignity and an inexcusable disrespect of its authority," he said.

He cited the assurance of NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba during a House hearing in March that the commission will issue a provisional authority to allow the media company to temporarily continue broadcasting after its legislative franchise expires on May 4. Lawmakers have said they needed more time to deliberate on the franchise renewal bills.

NTC acknowledged receiving the order on Monday noon.

The NTC was given 72 hours after receipt to explain or face punishment.

"Your failure to comply with this order within the period prescribed will result in a finding against you for contempt of the House of Representatives," Alvarez wrote.

On the other hand, presidential son and Davao City 1st district Rep. Paolo Duterte filed House Resolution 853, which seeks an investigation on ABS-CBN's alleged violations of its old franchise. His co-authors are ACT-CIS partly-list Rep. Eric Yap and Cavite 8th district Rep. Abraham Tolentino.

One of the alleged franchise violations mentioned in the resolution is the network’s pay-per-view channel Kapamilya Box Office through free-to-air signal.

The resolution also mentioned the network’s issuance of Philippine Depository Receipts to foreigners through ABS-CBN Holdings, which violates foreign ownership restriction in the media.

Meanwhile, senators adopted a resolution on Monday seeking the reversal of the NTC's Cease and Desist Order against the network.

The resolution said the Senate is urging the NTC "to reconsider its Cease and Desist Order against ABS-CBN Corporation and to allow the continuous operation of ABS-CBN Corporation, its subsidiaries and affiliates ABS-CBN Convergence Inc., Sky Cable Corporation, and Amcara Broadcasting Network, Inc., pending the disposition of its franchise renewal."

Twelve senators voted in favor of the resolution, while nine abstained.

Numerous bills have been filed in the House — where franchise bills emanate — since November 2016 to extend ABS-CBN’s license to continue airing on radio and free TV.

Under Cayetano's leadership, they have been set aside by the "too busy" 18th Congress as the country faced the Taal volcano eruption in January. The House leader was also criticized for relaunching an exhibit for late NBA star Kobe Bryant in February amid pleas for the House to tackle ABS-CBN's franchise leading up to its expiry. The COVID-19 crisis also hit the country as the franchise neared expiration.

ABS-CBN on May 7 sought relief from the Supreme Court in a bid to nullify a regulatory body's order that forced it to go off the air. In its 46-page petition for certiorari and prohibition, the embattled network asked the Supreme Court to declare "null and void" the cease and desist order issued by NTC.

CNN Philippines correspondent Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.