MANILA – The National Telecommunications Commission’s (NTC) order to halt the television and radio broadcasting operations of local media giant ABS-CBN is not an issue of press freedom, Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar said on Thursday.
Andanar issued the statement, as he decried the claims and assertions that President Rodrigo Duterte had induced the NTC to issue a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN.
In a press statement, Andanar said the NTC made an “independent and impartial” decision when it directed ABS-CBN to cease its broadcast operations nationwide following the expiration of the network’s 25-year legislative franchise on May 4.
Thus, the freedom of the press and the right to free speech are still protected under Duterte’s leadership, he said.
“This is not an issue of press freedom but an issue regarding legislative franchise. Democracy, and the free press and free speech that come with it, is very much alive in the country and effectively protected,” he said.
The NTC on Tuesday ordered ABS-CBN to stop the operations of its television and radio stations across the country since the broadcast firm “no longer has a valid and subsisting congressional franchise.”
The law granting a 25-year franchise to ABS-CBN was signed on March 30, 1995, but only took effect on April 19, 1995. For this reason, ABS-CBN’s franchise expired on May 4.
‘Unfair, objectionable’ to blame PRRD
Andanar said claims that Duterte was behind ABS-CBN’s shutdown are “bereft of truth and just a rehash of an old malicious imputation to bedevil the President and his administration.”
“One should understand, first and foremost, the Philippines’ legislative processes and rule of law before connecting any precedents as being orchestrated by the President,” he said.
Andanar branded as a mere “false narrative” that Duterte’s previous displeasure against ABS-CBN was a factor in NTC’s decision.
He said such assertion is “remarkably erroneous, lacks objectivity and scant on factual basis.”
“It is, therefore, totally unfair and objectionable for some parties and some international media to insist that what happened to the network is due to ‘having incurred the ire’ of the President,” Andanar said.
Not above the law
Andanar said Duterte no longer feels any resentment toward ABS-CBN since its president and chief executive officer, Carlo Katigbak, apologized to the President in February.
He said the NTC ordered ABS-CBN to stop its broadcast operations because the commission is bounded by law to decide on and execute any policies and programs that are “in accordance with what our Constitution dictates”.
Andanar stressed that it would be in violation of the law or a Constitutional infringement for Duterte to intervene in the NTC’s “independent, regulatory, and quasi-judicial undertaking.”
He added that the NTC’s decision only proves that ABS-CBN is not above the law.
“No one is above the law. ABS-CBN’s shutdown was brought about by the expiration of its 25-year legislative franchise last 4 May 2020,” Andanar said. “It is within the purview of the Constitution that NTC, as a regulatory body, disallows the continued operation of any broadcast network with an expired franchise.”
Franchise renewal up to Congress
Andanar said ABS-CBN’s bid to renew its franchise now lies in the hands of Congress.
He said the decision on the legislative franchise of ABS-CBN falls “within the purview and wisdom of Congress.”
Andanar said ABS-CBN can exhaust all legal remedies to resolve the issues hounding its franchise.
“The mandate of a broadcast franchise issuance and renewal is within the authority of the Congress, and not solely of the President, who only signs the law to be executory,” he said.
ABS-CBN failed to secure a fresh franchise because House lawmakers did not act on the 11 pending bills granting another 25-year legislative franchise to the network.
On Wednesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte has no reason to veto a ratified franchise bill from Congress once it reaches the President’s table.
Andanar said the government is thankful to ABS-CBN for its service to the Filipino nation, especially at this time of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
“The hard work and passion of everyone from the said media organization are truly commendable,” he said. (ia/PNA)