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ABS-CBN goes off the air after NTC order

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Candles are lit outside ABS-CBN network headquarters following government orders to cease its operations, in Quezon City, May 5. - REUTERS

ABS-CBN Corp. on Tuesday evening halted its broadcast operations, after the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued a cease-and-desist order against the media giant.

In compliance with the NTC directive, ABS-CBN shuttered all of its radio and television stations, including ABS-CBN Channel 2, DZMM and MOR.

News program TV Patrol was the last show aired on ABS-CBN Channel 2, before it officially signed off a few minutes before 8 p.m.

In a video statement aired on TV Patrol, ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo L. Katigbak maintained that the company has complied with the requirements for the renewal of its legislative franchise, and that it did not violate any laws.

He also urged Congress to renew its franchise that expired on Monday (May 4). ABS-CBN had continued to operate Channel 2 and DZMM on Tuesday.

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“Ipadama, isaad at ipadinig po natin ang ating nararamdaman sa pagsasara ng ating ABS-CBN. Sa oras na ito, kami naman po ang humihingi ng inyong pagdamay. Maraming salamat po, mga Kapamilya,” Mr. Katigbak said.

The NTC order dated May 5 directed the media giant to “immediately cease and desist” from operating its various television and radio broadcasting stations nationwide.

It also gave ABS-CBN 10 days from the receipt of the order to explain why the frequencies assigned to it “should not be recalled for lack of the necessary Congressional Franchise as required by law.”

Ordered closed are five AM radio stations, which include DZMM-AM in Obando, Bulacan; 18 FM radio stations; 42 TV stations; and 10 DTTB stations for implementation.

ABS-CBN clarified that its cable news channel ANC, online websites and video streaming service iWant are not affected by the order.

“Failure to file an answer within the period herein granted shall be considered respondents’ waiver of its rights to be heard, and the commission shall render such judgment as the law and evidence may warrant,” the NTC’s order also said.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte has not hidden his anger against ABS-CBN, repeatedly threatening to block the renewal of its legislative franchise. He accused the network of refusing to air some of his political ads.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said on Tuesday that the NTC had requested his department’s opinion on the matter and that it had given an advice “in accordance with law and equity.”

“[T]he Congress expressed essentially the same view as that of the [Department of Justice] and further enjoined the NTC to issue a provisional authority to [ABS-CBN],” he said, adding that the NTC issued a cease-and-desist order instead.
“[I]t must have a very good reason for doing so. [L]et’s wait for its explanation,” Mr. Guevarra said in a mobile phone message.

He added that the order “is immediately executory but still appealable to the courts.”

House Committee on Legislative Franchises Chairperson Rep. Franz E. Alvarez of the 1st District of Palawan said in a statement on Tuesday that his committee “will not be dictated upon by any individual or agency as to the manner, schedule, and conduct of its official business.”

He was referring to Solicitor General Jose C. Calida.
The lawmaker said lawmakers had been “made aware of efforts” by Mr. Calida “to pressure the NTC to go against the ruling of the Department of Justice, which states that ABS-CBN may continue to broadcast while Congress deliberates on the renewal of its franchise.”

“With the legal opinion of the Department of Justice and the authority given by the House of Representatives, there is no reason for ABS-CBN to discontinue or stop their operations until we make a final decision,” Mr. Alvarez added.

ABS-CBN said in a statement that millions of Filipinos will lose their source of news and entertainment as it goes off-air “when people need crucial and timely information as the nation deals with the COVID-19 (coronavirus diseases 2019) pandemic.”

ABS-CBN said it had been providing “comprehensive news coverage on the public health crisis and working with local governments and the private sector in providing food and basic goods for those in need.” It said it had delivered more than P300 million worth of goods for at least 600,000 families during the enhanced community quarantine.

“We trust that the government will decide on our franchise with the best interest of the Filipino people in mind, recognizing ABS-CBN’s role and efforts in providing the latest news and information during these challenging times,” the company said.

“ABS-CBN remains committed to being in the service of the Filipino and we will find ways to continue providing meaningful service to them,” it added. — Arjay L. Balinbin and Vann Marlo Villegas

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