By Arjay L. Balinbin

INFORMATION and Communications Technology Undersecretary Eliseo M. Rio, Jr. said the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) should not be abolished but proposed instead that telecommunications regulations be modernized.

He also opposed the idea of transferring the NTC’s regulatory functions to the DICT.

Wala sa aming mandate ang mag-regulate. Ang regulation powers ay nasa NTC at kailangang may quasi-judicial body din na hindi pwedeng pakialaman ng DICT ‘yung kanilang quasi-judicial functions, so hindi pwedeng ma-abolish ‘yan at hindi pwedeng maibigay ‘yan sa DICT dahil wala sa kanilang mandate ‘yun (The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has no mandate to regulate. Those powers lie with the NTC, which is a quasi-judicial body whose independence the DICT cannot infringe. That’s why the NTC cannot be abolished nor the DICT take over its functions, because it’s not within the DICT’s mandate,” Mr. Rio told BusinessWorld in a phone interview on May 16.

House Minority Leader Bienvenido M. Abante, Jr. filed House Bill 6701 on May 6 seeking the abolition of the NTC for its alleged “defiance” of Congress by ordering ABS-CBN Corp. to stop broadcasting due to an expired franchise.

“Contrary to its previous pronouncements, the NTC issued a Cease and Desist Order directing ABS-CBN to cease operations immediately. This brazen act of NTC (represents) open defiance (of) and an insult to Congress. The NTC should be abolished and its functions and powers be transferred to the DICT (Department of Information and Communications Technology) where it can be better exercised and hopefully be more responsive to the needs of our changing times,” said Mr. Abante, who represents Manila’s 6th District, in the bill’s explanatory note.

The bill proposes to transfer all of NTC’s assets, contracts, and documents, including existing appropriations, to the DICT.

The Information and Communications Technology Secretary will also be authorized to enter into sales through public bidding, negotiated sale, lease or any other form of divestment or transmission of rights over assets of the NTC. Proceeds of the sales will be remitted to the Bureau of Treasury.

NTC officials and employees who choose to leave government service will be given a severance package in addition to the separation and retirement benefits which they are entitled to, with the funds to be sourced from the proceeds of the sale of NTC assets.

Mr. Rio said that what the commission needs is the modernization of the antiquated Act No. 3846 or the Radio Control Law.

Kailangang maipasa ang modernization ng NTC. Ang ating telecommunications regulations ay mga pre-war pa ang iba diyan eh (The laws the NTC operates under need to be modernized. Our telecommunications regulations date back to before the war),” he said.

The Radio Control Law empowers the NTC to control the allocation of spectrum.

Mr. Rio added: “Pero ngayon mukhang gumagagalaw na dahil nakikita at nararamdaman ng buong bansa na importante pala ang ICT services iba na ‘yung technology ngayon compare mga around 50 years ago. ‘Yung regulations ay for technologies that are around 60 years old. So kailangan talaga ma-modernize (There is a growing realization that ICT services are important and things are moving in that direction… Technology has changed after decades… The regulations really need to be modernized),” he said.

NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo V. Cabarios concurred in a recent phone interview, saying the Radio Control Law is very old. The law was cited by the commission in its cease-and-desist order against the broadcaster whose franchise had expired on May 4.

The law has been on the books since 1931, predating the Commonwealth, he noted.

He said the law should be updated to allow a broadcasting company to continue operations while awaiting franchise approval.

Mr. Cabarios also noted that there is no provision in the law that authorizes the commission to issue a provisional authority to a broadcasting company which is still awaiting the renewal of its franchise.