MANILA — Malacañang on Friday assured the United States (US) that press freedom remains vibrant in the Philippines.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque gave the assurance, a day after the US State Department raised worry over the National Telecommunications Commission’s (NTC) order for local media giant ABS-CBN to stop its broadcast operations.
In a press statement, Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration continues to be open to criticisms, including those that come from private media outlets that are critical of the government.
“The Philippines, we assure our foreign friends and allies, continues to have a free and robust press where the critics and the political opposition remain vocal in their aversion to the current government,” Roque said.
US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, in a statement issued on Thursday, said Washington is “concerned by the situation regarding ABS-CBN.”
Ortagus stressed that 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.”
Roque said the Palace agrees with the US State Department.
“We share the view of the US State Department that an independent media is vital to democratic societies like the Philippines. This stance has never wavered on the part of the President and his Administration,” he said.
ABS-CBN on Tuesday ceased the operations of its television and radio broadcasts nationwide, following the NTC’s order due to the network’s expired franchise.
The NTC, in its cease and desist order dated May 5, said ABS-CBN must stop its broadcast operations since its 25-year franchise already lapsed on Monday.
Roque maintained that Palace would now let the legislative branch, which is “separate and independent” from the executive branch, decide on whether ABS-CBN should be given a fresh congressional franchise.
He reiterated that Duterte would remain “neutral” on the issue concerning ABS-CBN’s franchise.
“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. “He (Duterte) will leave the matter to the wisdom of our honorable ladies and gentlemen of both chambers of Congress.”
The House of Representatives has yet to act on the 11 pending bills that seek the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise.
On Thursday, ABS-CBN urged the Supreme Court (SC) to nullify and set aside the NTC’s order, claiming that the commission “gravely abused its discretion” when it issued a cease and desist order.
ABS-CBN also accused the NTC of violating the right of the public to information, curtailing freedom of speech, and causing “serious and irreparable damage on ABS-CBN and thousands of its employees if its (cease and desist order) implementation is not halted.”
During his commentary program aired on state-run PTV-4, Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the NTC’s order could not be challenged because it has valid ground to order the shutdown of ABS-CBN.
“Ang problema ho eh ang sitwasyon ay walang prangkisa. So kung walang prangkisa, wala kang karapatan na mag-operate. So kung wala kang karapatang mag-operate, eh ano ang ipapatigil mong nilabag na iyong karapatan (The problem is, the situation now is there is no franchise. If there is no franchise, you have no right to operate. If you do not have the right to operate, your rights are not violated),” Panelo said.
Panelo, nevertheless, said the government would let the SC decide on the fate of ABS-CBN. (IA/PNA)