NTC orders ABS-CBN to stop broadcast operations

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 5) — The National Telecommunications Commission on Tuesday ordered ABS-CBN to cease broadcasting operations due to the expiry of its legislative franchise, walking back from its promise 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 be recalled.

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

ABS-CBN said it will comply with the order and go off air Tuesday night.

“ABS-CBN remains committed to being in the service of the Filipino and we will find ways to continue providing meaningful service to them,” the network said.

The order came after Solicitor General Jose Calida warned NTC commissioners they can be slapped with graft charges if they decide to follow through with the promise to grant the network a provisional authority to operate while Congress still deliberates on its congressional franchise.

Calida had said there is no basis for the NTC to grant ABS-CBN a provisional permit as there is no law which delegates to the regulatory body the power of Congress to grant legislative franchises.

Palawan 1st District Rep. Franz Alvarez, who chairs the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, slammed Calida for “pressuring” the NTC to issue a cease and desist order instead of a provisional permit.

He added that this move directly challenges Congress’ authority to grant, deny, extend, revoke or modify broadcast franchises.

“The Solicitor General should have the decency to give Congress this courtesy to complete the exercise of its power,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez added that the House can summon the NTC officials for them to explain why they should not be held in contempt if they do not follow through with the promise to grant ABS-CBN a temporary permit.

He also said that ABS-CBN can continue operating until Congress makes a decision on the grant of a fresh 25-year franchise to the media giant.

The NTC, during the House Committee on Legislative Franchises’ first and only hearing on ABS-CBN’s franchise, said it has agreed to issue the network a provisional authority to operate pending its franchise renewal.

The commission said this was based on the advice of the Department of Justice to let ABS-CBN operate based on “equity,” which Calida rejected.

Calida had earlier asked the Supreme Court to nullify the network's existing franchise, citing grave violations of the terms set by Congress back in 1995. He had also asked the high court for a gag order on his office as well as on ABS-CBN and its executives, actors, and employees.

The Supreme Court, whose deliberations have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis, has yet to act on the petition.

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.