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ABS-CBN signs off

Francis Wakefield

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The broadcast operations of ABS-CBN Corp., its FM radio station My Only Radio, popular AM station DZMM and all its regional facilities stopped last night in accordance to a National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) cease and desist order (CDO) issued a day after the company’s 25-year operating franchise expired.

In the order dated 5 May, regulator NTC said the network must stop its broadcast operations “due to the expiration of its congressional franchise.”

It was also directed to “stop operating its various TV and radio broadcasting stations nationwide absent a valid Congressional Franchise as required by law.”

The Lopez Group giant complied with the order as it indicated in a statement that it had stopped operations based on the NTC order “that prohibits ABS-CBN from continuing its broadcast operations effective immediately.”

Appealable decision

Department of Justice (DoJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the NTC order is immediately executory and may be questioned before the courts.

“(The) CDO is immediately executory but still appealable (and subject to) judicial review by either the Regional Trial Court (RTC) or the Court of Appeals (CA),” Guevarra said in a message to reporters.

Guevarra has previously stated that a provisional authority (PA) may be validly granted by the NTC to ABS-CBN during the pendency of hearings into the continuation of its franchise.

“The NTC requested our opinion and the DoJ gave them advice in accordance with law and equity. The congress expressed essentially the same view as that of the DoJ and further enjoined the NTC to issue a PA to ABS CBN. The NTC issued a CDO instead. It must have a very good reason for doing so. Let’s wait for the explanation,” he added.

Guevarra said existing laws provide that a person who wishes to operate a radio/television station must first obtain a legislative franchise and thereafter a license to operate from the NTC.

He clarified, however, that no law governs the rights and obligations of a person or entity similar to ABS-CBN “which has already been granted a legislative franchise previously and has fully operated for many years, has applied for the renewal of its franchise long before the expiration, but for reasons not attributable to said person or entity, the legislature has not yet acted on the renewal of said franchise.”

ABS-CBN airs side

“Millions of Filipinos will lose their source of news and entertainment when ABS-CBN is ordered to go off-air on television and radio on 5 May 2020 when people need crucial and timely information as the nation deals with the COVID-19 pandemic,” the ABS-CBN statement read.

The network cited Senate Resolution 40 passed on 4 March, which expresses the chamber’s sense that ABS-CBN should be allowed to continue operations pending its franchise renewal.

It also cited the House of Representatives’ committee on legislative franchises’ letter to the NTC saying it should give ABS-CBN PA, the DoJ’s guidance to the commission on the matter, and an earlier statement by NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba on ABS-CBN’s continued operations.

Appeal open to firm

Malacañang said the Lopez firm “is free to exhaust all legal remedies available.”

“We thank the network for its services to the Filipino nation and people especially in this time of COVID-19. But in the absence of a legislative franchise, as we have earlier said, ABS-CBN’s continued operation is entirely with the NTC’s decision,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte, as a matter of record, accepted the apology of the network and left its fate to both chambers of Congress.

“Let the public be informed that broadcast franchises are within the authority of Congress. It has discretion on what to do with the legislative franchise of ABS-CBN and other broadcasting companies similarly situated,” he said.

Radio bands in peril

The NTC in its order, also gave the network 10 days from receipt of the order “to respond as to why the frequencies assigned to it should not be recalled.”

In a radio interview, NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios said the CDO, while immediately executory, may be appealed by the company.

“There are legal remedies, so that they can continue operating. It depends on the analysis of lawyers. I think they are studying the matter already,” Cabarios added.

The order, he said, would only affect the physical TV and radio broadcasting stations of ABS-CBN and does not prevent the company from creating content and broadcasting over new media such as digital TV and the Internet.

No franchise, no PA

He said a PA was not granted to ABS-CBN, in lieu of a franchise from Congress, as it has never issued a PA to a broadcasting company without a valid franchise.

While there has been no decision yet on ABS-CBN’s quo warranto case before the Supreme Court filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, he said the CDO was issued as there was no legal basis for the continued operation of the network.

Following its issuance of the CDO, it said that NTC regional offices will implement the closure order in their areas of jurisdiction.

After receiving a response from ABS-CBN, it said a hearing for the case will be scheduled at “the earliest time after the enhanced community quarantine is lifted by the government.”

with Keith Calayag
@tribunephl_kit

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