By Arjay L. Balinbin and Genshen L. Espedido, Reporters

THE NATIONAL Telecommunications Commission (NTC) on Tuesday issued a cease-and-desist order against the direct broadcast satellite service of the Sky Cable Corp., a subsidiary of the embattled ABS-CBN Corp.

The NTC said in its order that the legislative franchise granted to Sky Cable had expired on May 4.

“Sky Cable no longer has a valid reason and subsisting congressional franchise to install, operate and maintain a direct broadcast satellite service,” it added.

NTC argued that the provisional authority it had issued to Sky Cable to operate and maintain a direct broadcast satellite in 251 cities and municipalities throughout the country was based on the company’s valid franchise.

The commission cited in its order Act No. 3846, which states that “no person, firm, company, association, or corporation shall construct, install, establish, or operate a radio transmitting station, or a radio receiving station used for commercial purposes, or a radio broadcasting station, without having first obtained a franchise therefor from the Congress of the Philippines.”

It also gave Sky Cable 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.”

The company was also directed to “refund to all its subscribers those amounts representing unconsumed prepaid loads, deposits on subscriber equipment and devices, deposit or advance payment in monthly charges for postpaid subscribers, if any, charges collected from new applicants for the direct broadcast satellite service, and other charges collected.”

Also on Tuesday, the NTC released a separate order against ABS-CBN, directing it to immediately stop operating digital TV transmission in Metro Manila using Channel 43.

It argued that the order it had issued on May 5 “necessarily includes” the digital terrestrial television service in Metro Manila.

The NTC on Monday committed to the House of Representatives that it would order ABS-CBN to stop airing programs through digital television receivers or digiboxes.

ABS-CBN Chief Executive Officer and President Carlo Joaquin Tadeo L. Katigbak said that the network was willing to submit to the judgment of the NTC.

On May 5, the NTC ordered ABC-CBN, whose franchise had expired on May 4, to halt its broadcast operations.

In a statement , Sky Cable said its 1.5 million subscribers will be deprived of access to the channels it carries starting on Tuesday night.

Separately on Tuesday, a labor group urged lawmakers to include provisions to protect workers’ rights in the bill granting ABS-CBN a new franchise.

Hindi lamang po kaming humihingi ng simpleng pag-renew ng prangkisa ng ABS-CBN. Ang amin pong mungkahi bilang representate ng mga manggagawa ay ang pag-apruba ng mas magandang version na clearly ay pro-worker,” Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa Campaign Manager Benjamin Miguel Alvero III said.

(We’re not just asking for a simple franchise renewal for ABS-CBN. Our call as workers’ representative is the approval of a better version that is pro-worker.)

He made the statement during the joint hearing of the House committees on Legislative Franchises, and Good Government and Public Accountability.

Mr. Alvero suggested that the bill should include the worker’s rights to self-organization, collective bargaining and negotiations, decent compensation and benefits, humane work conditions, and to be included in the system of profit-sharing.

Tignan po natin itong pro-worker provisions bilang stepping stone upang ma-guarantee, masigurado na protektado ang mga manggagwa sa buong industriya ng broadcast,” he added.

(Let’s look at these pro-worker provisions as a stepping stone to guarantee and ensure the protection of workers in the entire broadcast industry.)

Mark Nepomuceno, former head of ABS-CBN corporate services group, said there are 4,340 regular employees under the network while there are 9,151 independent contractors and suppliers. This does not include employees under the network’s subsidiaries.

Asked by Kabayan Party-List Rep. Ron P. Salo why there are fewer regular employees in the network compared with independent contractors, Mr. Nepocumeno said it is “due to the nature of the industry.”

“I agree that the number of regular employees, compared to the project employees plus independent contractors will be a smaller percentage. What that exact percentage po, your honor, when we reconcile the numbers, we can arrive at that,” he said.

Labor and Employment Undersecretary Ana C. Dione said that while ABS-CBN is compliant with labor standards, Congress should also take note that there are 67 pending labor cases in the judiciary against the network since 1986. “With respect to the inspection after our findings, then we say yes they complied. We also note that there are pending cases, not in the Department of Labor but in other agencies. Kailangan po kasi tingnan nang whole kasi ‘pag sinabing (We need to look at it as a whole because if we say) compliant totally, I think that’s not a totally correct term,” she said.

Baguio Rep. Mark O. Go said that these cases should have been immediately resolved. “I think what should have been done here is we should have an immediate resolution of these cases. And as stated by Mr. Katigbak, they are willing to comply,” he said, referring to ABS-CBN’s top official. The two panels were discussing whether the media network violated labor laws to aid their decision in granting a new franchise. The committees will convene again on Wednesday.