NTC: No abuse in network’s halt order

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By Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporter

THE NATIONAL Telecommunications Commission (NTC) asked the Supreme Court to deny for lack of merit the petition of broadcast network ABS-CBN Corp. to stop the implementation of the cease-and-desist order that forced it to go off air.

In a 98-page comment, the NTC argued that its issuance of the halt order to the operations of ABS-CBN is valid and it did not commit grave abuse of discretion.

The telecommunication regulator said that ABS-CBN cannot operate after its legislative franchise expired on May 4.

“The NTC cannot authorize the petitioner to operate without a new franchise from Congress,” it said. “It is ineluctable that a legislative franchise is necessary before a broadcasting entity may start its operations.”

The commission also claimed that it has the power to stop broadcast operations due to lack of franchise under the 2006 NTC Rules of Practice and Procedure and its mandate under Executive Order No. 546

It also said that the Letter of the House of Representatives and Senate Resolution No. 40, which urged the commission to issue provisional authority to the network pending the renewal of the franchises, “merely express the sentiment” of the Congress.

“Hence, these issuances cannot amend the current law requiring a congressional franchise for the operation of broadcasting networks. As held by the Court, a resolution, not being a law itself, cannot amend prior laws,” it said. The NTC also maintained that it did not violate the equal protection clause of the company when it deviated from past practice of allowing other mass media entities to operate despite the expiration of their franchises, saying the “contention is misplaced.”

The commission said that the past practice of issuing provisional authority with pending application with the Congress “cannot be the source of a demandable right.”

“It is not hard to discern that what is being curbed by the NTC in issuing the assailed CDO is the erroneous past practice of passively allowing a mass media entity to continue its broadcast operations during the pendency of its franchise application in Congress,” it said.

It also said the network is not similarly situated with those who were granted provisional authority pending the franchise renewal and it enforced the order over the alleged violations of ABS-CBN.

The operations of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines does not involve commercial operations. The franchise of Iglesia ni Cristo was granted four days after the franchise expiration and Smart Communications, Inc.’s was approved one month after the lapse.

It also said that it did not violate the network’s right to due process as it can issue the cease-and-desist order on its own initiative upon the expiration of franchise.

With the order, the commission said it did not curtail the right to freedom of speech and of the press, and deprived the public of their right to information as it is only performing its mandate.

The NTC also cited procedural issues on the filing of ABS-CBN, saying the issuance of the order is a purely administrative act and that the filing of a motion for reconsideration is the proper remedy.

It said the network’s move also violated the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies, primary jurisdiction and hierarchy of courts, adding that the issues raised are not of transcendental importance. It also said the grant of franchise is within the scope of the Congress.

The NTC also asked the court to drop the House of Representative and Senate as parties to the case.

The commission issued the order on May 5 after the franchise of ABS-CBN expired on May 4 while the process for renewal is pending with the Congress, forcing it to stop television and radio operations.

The network asked the court for a temporary restraining order and/or preliminary injunction against the order saying the shutdown would cost the livelihood of its more than 11,000 employees and a loss of revenue for the government as the company paid P70.5 billion tax between 2003 and 2020.

It also would lose up to P35 million daily when off-air, it said.

ABS-CBN also asked the court to immediately act on its petition on May 18, saying it will take weeks or months before it would be allowed to operate through a measure by the Congress.