Malacañang on Wednesday reiterated President Rodrigo Duterte’s neutrality as it ensured Congress of a free hand in deciding the fate of media network ABS-CBN, whose operation was stalled by its failure to renew its congressional franchise.
But it is unlikely that the Chief Executive will reverse the National Telecommunications Commission’s (NTC) cease and desist order on the operations of the television, radio and new media giant.
While various pressures are coming from all sides to allow the media network to function, the operational stoppage will remain until network executives have responded within 10 days to justify a resumption of airing its programs.
The Federation of International Cable TV and Telecommunications Association of the Philippines (FICTAP) — a direct competitor of ABS-CBN’s “black box” satellite operation, enumerated the network’s various alleged violations which its president, Estrellita Juliano-Tamano, believes would weigh on its application for a franchise renewal.
The media company has long been seeking a further extension to its franchise. But while there had been nine bills pending before the House of Representatives all aimed at providing ABS-CBN with a permit to operate, no action had been taken on the matter since 2014.
While the FICTAP, Tamano said, will not object to the network’s original franchise, the group is firm on its “no franchise, no operation” stand against its rival company.
The FICTAP had opposed the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise in 2014 as it was allegedly no longer faithful to the original franchise agreement, with six more channels added to the permit. These, Tamano said, should have operated under different franchises.
She also accused ABS-CBN of charging P2,500 pay-per-view for the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight on 2 May 2015 in alleged violation of an NTC cease and desist order.
It also charged P30 for Kapamilya Box Office (KBO) programs when Tamano said the franchise is supposed to operate “free to air.”
ABS-CBN sources, meanwhile, defended its “black box” operation as part of a shift from analog to digital system in 2007 with NTC permission to air new channels like S+A (formerly studio 23) and five other specialty TV channels — DZMM Teleradyo, Knowledge Channel, Cinemo, Yey! and KBO.
The network also cited an 18 December 2014 implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for digital terrestrial television broadcast (“black box” or TVplus) in the Philippines. All TVplus channels were approved and allowed by NTC, it said.
While several bills for its franchise sat in Congress for six years, ABS-CBN came under fire from President Duterte for not airing his campaign video despite the network’s acceptance of fees for the material.
The network was also charged of having shown bias against the former Davao City mayor.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, however, reiterated President Duterte’s neutral stand on the matter, saying: “The Chief Executive will not get angry (at Congress) if it passes a franchise for ABS-CBN.”
“He won’t get mad, he won’t be happy. He will remain neutral. Vote as your conscience dictates,” Roque told members of Congress about the President’s stand.
No dictates to the NTC nor its mother agency, the Department of Information and Communications Technology, will come from the Palace, Roque assured.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also believes the President will not reverse the NTC decision, which he said can justify its order based on laws, particularly Republic Act 7966 — the act that granted ABS-CBN its franchise which had lapsed; and RA 3846, which regulates radio and television operations.
Guevarra’s statement was a reaction to former Senator Francis Escudero, now governor of Sorsogon, who claimed President Duterte can reverse the NTC order and let the House and the Senate decide on the franchise application.
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, however, kept mum on the issue despite assuring the network that it would get its franchise several months earlier.
Buhay partylist Rep. Lito Atienza blamed Cayetano’s inaction that led to the cancellation of the network’s operation on Tuesday night.
The network was not without allies in the House as Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez filed another resolution to give ABS-CBN a provisional franchise.
House Joint Resolution 30, filed on Wednesday, aims to give the network authority to operate until 30 June while the formal franchise is being discussed in the chamber.
There is presently a hoard of bills which seeks to give the network a permit. These were filed by Reps. Micaela Violago, Rose Marie “Baby” Arenas, Joy Myra Tambunting, Sol Aragones and Vilma Santos-Recto.
As Malacañang reiterated that the franchise is not a political issue and not a move to thump media freedom, Solicitor General Jose Calida, who called for the network’s closure, blamed Congress for not acting on the bills that led to the NTC closure order.
“No one can say (NTC) Chairman (Gamaliel) Cordoba can be dictated upon,” Calida said.
What transpired on Tuesday, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Sonny Angara said, would lead to a swift passage of the ABS-CBN franchise.
“Maybe one or two days of interpellation. Maybe two weeks are the quickest,” Angara related.
Sotto said he is not aware of the reasons why the bills for renewal got stalled in the 16th, 17th and 18th Congresses.
with FRANCIS T. WAKEFIELD @tribunephl_FTW ,
KEITH CALAYAG @tribunephl_kit
AND GABBIE PARLADE