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On the view of the US State Department Malacañang on Friday shared the US State Department view that an independent media is vital to democratic societies like the Philippines.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque asserted President Duterte never wavered from this stance as the United States made known its concern over the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) decision for the ABS-CBN Corporation to cease and desist its broadcast operations.

Roque said despite the US concern, the Philippines assures its foreign friends and allies, Filipinos will continue to have a free and robust press where critics and the political opposition express their views out in the open.

“The issue of the granting of franchise is an independent prerogative of the legislative branch of the government, which — like the United States system — is separate and independent from the executive branch. We therefore ask those who clamor for the continued operations of the network, whose broadcast franchise had lapsed, to lobby before their representatives in the august halls of Congress and make their voices be heard,” Roque said in a statement.

“As we have said in previous occasions, the President is neutral on the issue and he will leave the matter to the wisdom of our honorable ladies and gentlemen of both chambers of Congress,” he added.

US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus was earlier quoted as having been gravely concerned by the cease and desist order imposed on the country’s largest broadcasting network.

“An independent media plays a critical role in facilitating the open exchange of information and ideas which is vital to free, prosperous and secure democratic societies,” she said.

The Supreme Court (SC) is set to raffle off on Monday the ABS-CBN Corp. petition challenging the legality of the cease and desist order (CDO) issued by the NTC.

SC Public Information Office chief Brian Keith Hosaka on Friday confirmed the high court’s receipt of the petition for certiorari and prohibition.

“The Petition will be raffled to a Member-in-Charge on Monday, 11 May 2020, who will then make a recommendation for the consideration of the Court En Banc,” Hosaka said of the petition filed under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court to nullify and set-aside the cease and desist order issued by the NTC.

ABS-CBN also petitioned the High Court for a temporary restraining order against the NTC pending decision on the merits of the petition.

According to the network, NTC gravely abused its discretion when it issued the order, instead of the deferring to Congress where bills for the renewal of its legislative franchise have been filed since 2016.

A total of 15 bills had been filed at the House of Representatives and three in the Senate proposing to grant ABS-CBN another 25 years to operate. Despite inquiries by both chambers early this year, none of the bills were passed as Congress went on recess last March.

Further, ABS-CBN claimed the NTC violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution as it allowed in the past similarly situated broadcasting companies to continue to operate by issuing so-called provisional authority to operate.

It added the NTC CDO violated its right to due process issued in haste and without hearing.

The network said its abrupt closure denied Filipinos their right to information amid the coronavirus outbreak sweeping across the nation.

The NTC in an Order dated 5 May, directed ABS-CBN to stop operating its television and radio broadcasting stations nationwide “absent a valid Congressional Franchise required by law.”

It cited Republic Act 3846 or the Radio Control Law which states that “no person, firm, company, association, or corporation shall construct, install, establish, or operate a radio transmitting station, or radio receiving station used for commercial purposes, or a radio broadcasting station, without having first obtained a franchise therefor from the Congress of the Philippines.

At the House of Representatives, the franchise lapse gained urgency as more than 11,000 lost their employment just at the time when a health emergency is sweeping across the country, according to a partylist representative.

But Presidential Spokesman Secretary Harry Roque, Jr. expressed belief Congress will not turn a blind eye or refuse to hear public sentiment and opinion on the broadcast firm’s franchise renewal.

“I think that is a matter better left answered by Congress. But the President and I having been a part of the House of Representatives ourselves, have this to say: Your representatives in Congress are neither deaf nor blind to the sentiment of their constituents.”

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on Friday also pleaded with lawmakers and the SC to act swiftly on the network giant’s shutdown and its lapsed franchise.

In a radio interview, IBP president Domingo Cayosa said the House of Representatives may resort to teleconferencing to tackle several bills seeking the franchise renewal of the country’s top broadcaster that the lawmakers allegedly sat on unacted for three years.

Cayosa said the SC may also use the same electronic platform to consider the network’s petition to restart its broadcast operations that the NTC stopped Tuesday a day after its franchise expired.

“If they want to, they will find ways. If they don’t, they will look for excuses,” said Cayosa. “We cannot force congressmen and the Supreme Court because they can take their sweet time. However, we request that they do their jobs swiftly.”

The NTC CDO came days after Solicitor General (SolGen) Jose Calida allegedly asked telecommunications regulators to put a stop the network’s operation instead of allowing it to operate provisionally as lawmakers have yet to consider its franchise.

Cayosa stressed the CDO was not fair, saying the NTC shuttered ABS-CBN without giving the network a chance to defend itself and explain its position.

“This is not just a legal issue, but rather, a question of fairness and propriety,” Cayosa said.

Lawyer Larry Gadon also on Friday said the quo warranto petition filed by the SolGen and alleged forum shopping by ABS-CBN has doomed its petition for an injunction against NTC.
“The CDO issued by NTC was supposed to render the quo warranto petition filed by the SolGen moot and academic. However, the filing of TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) and injunction practically revived the SolGen case” who merely has to refile the case for the SC to resolve, he said.

with Keith Calayag @tribunephl_kit, Perseus Echeminada,
Elmer N. Manuel
and Alvin Murcia