The ABS-CBN in Quezon City | Photo courtesy of ABS-CBN

PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte will not reject ABS-CBN’s bid for a franchise renewal if the majority of lawmakers find valid ground to allow the country’s largest television network to operate again.

Malacañang on Wednesday, May 6, assured the public that the president would not veto the bill that proposes renewing the network giant’s renewal.

“Sa tingin ko, wala naman pong dahilan para i-veto ng Presidente iyang ABS-CBN franchise (I think there is no reason for the president to veto [the bill seeking the renewal of] ABS-CBN’s franchise),” said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.

He also said that Duterte is “completely neutral” and would not hold a grudge against his allies in Congress should they vote in favor of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal.

“He [Duterte] really is neutral and (wants) to let all his allies know that he will not hold it against them. It will not endear him either way. They can vote as they wish,” he said.
Roque also stressed that only Congress can give ABS-CBN a fresh franchise.

“Talaga pong tanging ang Kongreso lang po ang may kapangyarihang mag-desisyon kung magkakaroon muli ng prangkisa ang ABS-CBN (Only Congress has the power to decide on whether ABS-CBN should be given new franchise),” he said.

ABS-CBN on Tuesday, May 5 shut down its radio and television operations nationwide after the National Telecommunications Commission issued the network a cease-and-desist order.

The CDO came after Solicitor General Jose Calida warned the NTC against granting a provisional authority to the network.

ABS-CBN, with its expired 25-year franchise, signed off at 7:52 p.m. after its flagship news program, “TV Patrol.”

“The Palace notes that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has issued a Cease and Desist Order against ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation for lack of a valid legislative franchise. ABS-CBN is free to exhaust all legal remedies available to it,” Roque said Tuesday night.

He also expressed gratitude to the network and its public service amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We thank the network for its services to the Filipino nation and people especially in this time of COVID-19,” he said.

“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,” Roque added.

NTC’s CDO draws ire from media, lawmakers alike

The Malacañang Press Corps condemned NTC’s issuance of the order, calling the move a “shameless and blatant attack on press freedom.”

“We demand that the NTC honor its commitment to Congress to issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN and to leave the issue of the franchise renewal to Congress,” the MPC said.

It also called out the Congress’ lack of urgency when it came to deliberating the network’s franchise renewal bid.

“Since 2014, Congress sat and dilly-dallied on ABS-CBN’s application to renew its franchise until it was too late on May 5, 2020 – one of the darkest moments in the history of the Philippine media,” the MPC said.

It added, “The confluence of events shows us that this is an orchestrated attack in part against ABS-CBN, and on the whole, an attack against press freedom by agents of the government who are only too willing to please their master. They have done it before. They are doing it again.”

Meanwhile, Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, the head of the Committee on Franchises, pointed out that NTC had no basis to shut down ABS-CBN’s operations.

“If the NTC chooses to succumb to the pressure of the solicitor general and disregard the commitments they gave under oath, we reserve the right to call them before Congress and explain why they should not be held in contempt,” he said.

Sen. Sonny Angara, for his part, noted that NTC’s order against ABS-CBN contradicted the resolution separately adopted by both chambers of Congress, which authorized the NTC to let ABS-CBN operate pending the approval of its franchise extension.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. also took to Twitter to express his disappointment over the order.

“I don’t watch TV much if at all but shutting down a major media outlet that has provided entertainment and comforting connection to tens of millions of OFWs and 80 million Filipinos, not to mention dependable news of real not made up events is a shame for NTC and Congress,” he said.

Vice President Leni Robredo said shutting down ABS-CBN will “cost lives.”

“In this time of crisis, we are relying on free flow of accurate and timely information to give shape and direction to our actions,” she said in Filipino.

“This free flow of information literally saves lives. Closing down ABS-CBN costs lives on top of unnecessarily burdening the thousands who will lose their jobs,” she added.
On the other hand, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines pointed out that the CDO was issued two days after World Press Freedom Day.

“All this stems from President Rodrigo Duterte’s personal vendetta against the network, whose franchise renewal he pledged to block. It sends a clear message: What Duterte wants, Duterte gets. And it is clear, with this brazen move to shut down ABS-CBN, that he intends to silence the critical media and intimidate everyone else into submission,” said NUJP chair Nonoy Espina in a statement.

Calida: Blame lawmakers

Calida, who filed the quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN, came to NTC’s defense, saying the commission was only doing its job.

“Why blame NTC when they are only following the law? Without a valid and subsisting franchise from Congress, the NTC cannot allow any broadcasting entity from operating in the country,” he said.

The solicitor general pointed out that the franchise bill has been stalled in Congress since 2016.

Malacañang also defended Calida, denying that he influenced the NTC to issue the order.

“Hindi po tayo nagpasara. Pinagsara po ang ABS-CBN dahil wala itong prangkisa (We did not order its closure. The ABS-CBN had to stop operating because it no longer had a franchise),” Roque said.

Despite the shutdown on Tuesday, ABS-CBN assured Filipinos around the world that it would continue broadcasting on its international channel, The Filipino Channel, as well as online. News will also be available on its various websites.

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