NTC apologizes for failure to notify House of shutdown order vs. ABS-CBN

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 14) — The National Telecommunications Commission stood by its highly contested order stopping ABS-CBN's broadcast operations, but apologized to the House of Representatives for failing to inform the chamber's leadership of its change of mind.

In their three-page response letter to the House's show cause order, NTC commissioners stressed that they were legally bound to shut down ABS-CBN following the expiration of the network's legislative franchise on May 4.

"If the NTC were to issue a PA (provisional authority), it would have amounted to an encroachment into the exclusive domain of Congress," read the letter dated May 12 and signed by Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba and other officials. It was released to the media on Thursday.

The NTC commissioners said they understand why their May 5 cease and desist order "took Congress by surprise," admitting that it was contrary to their statement in March that they would allow ABS-CBN to operate pending the renewal of its franchise.

"The representation was made upon the good faith belief that the issuance of the PA by the NTC provided the best possible solution at that time," the NTC commissioners said.

After giving their word, however, the NTC "rigorously sifted through various (and often opposing) legal arguments" on the issue. They said they "also considered" the advice of the Office of the Solicitor General that the issuance of a provisional permit could expose the NTC commissioners to graft charges.

Solicitor General Jose Calida made this comment public on the eve of the expiration of ABS-CBN's franchise, but the NTC said he also wrote to them on April 30 that the planned move was "contrary to the Constitution, the law, and jurisprudence which vested upon Congress the sole power to grant or renew a franchise."

READ: Calida pins blame on Congress, says NTC only followed law in shutting ABS-CBN

The NTC stressed it did not mean to disrespect Congress. Both the House and the Senate earlier asked the NTC to give ABS-CBN temporary permit while the lower chamber has yet to tackle their franchise renewal bid due to more pressing matters.

"We are deeply saddened as well for the inconvenience we may have caused Congress. Again, we express our contriteness and sincere apologies for the ensuing confusion this has caused, not the least because we are in the midst of a crisis," the NTC commissioners said.

In a House session on Wednesday, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano reiterated that it was "wrong" for the NTC to order ABS-CBN's closure especially amid the coronavirus crisis. He also slammed Calida for his "unconstitutional meddling," and said ABS-CBN should not have followed the NTC order.

He filed a bill seeking to give ABS-CBN provisional permit valid until October 31, 2020, to give Congress time to deliberate on whether it will be given a fresh 25-year franchise. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives on second reading.

The House is conducting another session on Monday, when ABS-CBN's temporary franchise is expected to be approved on third and final reading.

The Senate expects to launch its own inquiry following the transmittal of the House bill next week. After both chambers agree on a proposal, the bill will be sent to President Rodrigo Duterte for enactment.

"NTC would thus abide by any law passed by Congress which may extend all telecommunication and broadcasting legislative franchises that expired during the public health emergency, if there be any," the commissioners said.

ABS-CBN's shutdown hogged international headlines, as more than 11,000 media workers stand to lose their jobs while the world is battling COVID-19.

It was heavily criticized as an attack on press freedom, since Duterte had publicly threatened ABS-CBN over the network's refusal to carry his campaign commercials in 2016.

Duterte earlier accepted an apology from ABS-CBN. His spokesperson, Harry Roque said Duterte is "completely neutral" on ABS-CBN's franchise renewal, and the lawmakers should decide on it without worrying about what the President would feel.

TIMELINE: ABS-CBN franchise

The Lopez-owned network earlier asked the Supreme Court to declare "null and void" the cease and desist order issued by the NTC for violating its right to due process, equal protection of the laws, and freedom of speech. The petition is still pending before the high court.

CNN Philippines' Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.