Sat. Sep 18th, 2021

MANILA – President Rodrigo R. Duterte has assured his allies in Congress that he would not hold a grudge against those who would vote in favor of the franchise renewal of embattled broadcast firm ABS-CBN, Malacañang said on Wednesday.

The assurance came after the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) on Tuesday ordered the network to halt the operations of its television and radio broadcasting stations nationwide following the expiration of its franchise.

In an interview with ABS News Channel (ANC), Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque noted that the NTC’s decision is “appealable” to the courts but not to Duterte’s office.

He nonetheless said Duterte is “completely neutral” and would let his allies in Congress “vote as they wish” when they begin the deliberations on the pending bills seeking the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise.

The President gave the guarantee during his 20-minute conversation with Roque on Tuesday night.

“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.

The NTC, in a cease-and-desist order dated May 5, said ABS-CBN must cease its broadcast operations “due to the expiration of its congressional franchise” on May 4.

It ordered ABS-CBN, which has more than 11,000 employees, to halt the operations of its 42 television stations across the country, 10 digital broadcast channels, 18 FM stations, and five AM stations.

Roque said Duterte has no power to reverse the NTC’s order.

In an interview with state-run PTV-4, he said it is a “crime” to control the NTC, which he emphasized has “complete independence” in exercising quasi-judicial powers.

“It would be a form of graft and a violation of (the) Code of Ethics for government employees if the President intervenes in the decision-making of the National Telecommunications Commission,” Roque said.

No curtailment of press freedom

Roque quashed claims that ABS-CBN’s shutdown is a brazen attempt by the Duterte government to curtail press freedom.

He also denied that the previous warning of Solicitor General Jose Calida against the NTC had influenced the commission’s latest ruling.

“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. “Hindi po nag-influence si Calida. Sumulat po siya (Calida did not influence [the NTC’s decision]. He wrote to NTC), that’s in due course of his job. He is perfectly within his right to write.”

Calida earlier warned the NTC against granting ABS-CBN provisional authority to operate after the expiration of the broadcast firm’s franchise.

Duterte would have granted ABS-CBN the provisional authority to operate beyond franchise lapse, had he given the authority to do so, he said.

Roque, however, noted that Duterte couldn’t give ABS-CBN the provisional permit to operate.

“Kung talagang kakayaning ibigay ng Presidente mismo ang prangkisa, bakit hindi (If only the President can grant [ABS-CBN] the franchise, why not)?” he said. “Kahit gusto pong makapagbigay ng prangkisa ang Presidente mismo, wala po siyang ganyang kapangyarihan (Even though the President wants to give the franchise, he has no such power).”

Franchise bills won’t be certified as urgent

ABS-CBN’s franchise expired on May 4 following the House of Representatives’ failure to act on the 11 pending bills that seek to renew the 25-year franchise of the local media giant.

Roque said Duterte could not certify the franchise bills as urgent because of “private interest” involving ABS-CBN.

Thus, it is improper to certify as urgent the bills for the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN, he said.

“I’ve not seen any franchise bill to have been certified as urgent by the President. So in that sense, no certification is forthcoming because it is for all intended purposes a private bill that grants a privilege to a private company. I don’t think it is proper to have it certified as urgent,” Roque said.

Only the legislative branch has the “primary and exclusive” power to decide on ABS-CBN’s fate, he said, adding that the House can now start deliberating on the pending franchise bills since the session of Congress resumed on May 4.

“Kayang gawin nila iyan sa lalong mabilis na panahon (They can do that at the soonest time possible),” Roque said.

Workers might qualify for gov’t aid

To help the displaced workers of ABS-CBN, Roque said the Palace would coordinate with the Department of Labor and Employment.

He said ABS-CBN employees affected by the closure order might also apply for the government’s Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) Program, under which the government would provide a wage subsidy of PHP5,000 to PHP8,000 per month to each eligible employee in small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

“Baka maipasok po natin sila (ABS-CBN workers) doon sa programa ng SMEs para makakuha po sila ng panandaliang dalawang buwan na ayuda (Perhaps, they could qualify for the program for SMEs so they can get government assistance for two months),” Roque said. (ia/PNA)

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