ABS-CBN goes off air following NTC order

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 5) — For only the second time in its history, ABS-CBN has gone off the air.

The National Telecommunications Commission ordered the giant broadcast network on Tuesday to stop operations due to the expiry of its legislative franchise.

The first time it was forced off the air was in September 1972 when the then president Ferdinand Marcos placed the country under martial law.

The network signed off at 7:52 p.m. on Tuesday, after airing the national anthem, naming its engineers and its TV stations.

The shutdown covers five AM stations, including DZMM, 18 FM stations and 42 TV stations, including Channels 2 and 23.

Top ABS-CBN executives appeared on its flagship newscast TV Patrol to appeal for support to get the network back on air.

Ipadama, isaad at ipadinig po natin ang ating nararamdaman sa pagsasara ng ating ABS-CBN. Sa oras na ito, kami naman po ang humihingi ng inyong pagdamay,” ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak said.

[Translation: Let us make them feel and let them hear what we are feeling about the closure of our ABS-CBN. At this time, we are asking for your solidarity.]

Masakit sa amin na ipinasasara kami, pero masakit rin ito para sa milyun-milyong mga kababayan natin naniniwalang ang aming serbisyo ay mahalaga sa kanila,” ABS-CBN Corporation chairman Mark Lopez said.

[Translation: It’s painful for us that we are being ordered to close, but this is also painful for the millions of our countrymen who believe that our service is important to them.]

The NTC on Tuesday ordered ABS-CBN to cease broadcasting operations due to the expiry of its legislative franchise, walking back from its promise to legislators last March to issue a provisional permit pending its renewal.

The commission also asked ABS-CBN to explain within ten days why the frequencies assigned to it should not now be recalled.

NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios told CNN Philippines that there was no other option but to issue a cease and desist order for the media giant.

Wala na pong [There is no] basis of the authorization granted. Since wala na pong [there is no longer an] authority, they have to stop operating,” Cabarios said. “We do not have any option but to comply with the law. We have to comply with the law.”

The NTC had earlier committed to the House Committee on Legislative Franchises that it will give ABS-CBN a provisional authority to operate pending the grant of a fresh 25-year franchise to the company.

This, however, was opposed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, saying that there is no law delegating the powers of Congress to approve franchises to the NTC. He even warned of graft charges for NTC commissioners if they made good with their promise.

Calida’s view differs from Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who believes that no law governs the situation ABS-CBN is currently in, which should have given the NTC more leeway in allowing the network to continue operating.

“Considering that it has allowed other companies before in the same situation like PT&T, Smart and CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines), it would just be fair and non-discriminatory if the NTC will continue to allow also ABS-CBN to operate while awaiting the action of Congress on the renewal of the franchise bill,” Guevarra said.

Several lawmakers who were dismayed by the NTC’s move said ABS-CBN can still challenge this before a court and secure a temporary restraining order.

While its TV and radio stations across the country have been shut down, the NTC said ABS-CBN can still continue delivering content through other media.

ABS-CBN News explained that the network can continue delivering content through its online platforms and through its cable news channel ANC.

Numerous bills seeking to grant ABS-CBN Corporation a fresh 25-year franchise remain pending in Congress.

Media outlets, as well as electricity companies and cable TV providers, are required to secure legislative franchises. Such bills must first be approved by the House of Representatives before they are acted upon by the Senate.

President Rodrigo Duterte has been publicly ranting against ABS-CBN since assuming office, saying that the network refused to carry his campaign commercials even if they have been already paid for.

In 2018, Duterte said he will block the renewal of the network's franchise. Last year, he told the Lopez family to just sell the company to a new owner to boost its chances of staying in business.

However, the President accepted the apology offered by ABS-CBN President Carlo Katigbak during a Senate hearing for airing an anti-Duterte ad during the 2016 campaign which was paid for by the opposition.