As the country’s largest media network ABS-CBN went off-air last night, May 5, many speculations and arguments have arisen as to why the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) ordered it to shut down after reassuring Congress that the network can still continue to operate beyond May 4.
On Tuesday, May 5, a day after the legislative-franchise of the Lopez-led broadcasting company expired, the NTC issued a cease-and-desist order requesting ABS-CBN halt its TV and radio broadcast operations.
This came a day after Solicitor General Jose Calida warned NTC officials that they may face graft charges if they permit a “provisional authority” to ABS-CBN which would allow it to continue operating.
The Solicitor General previously filed a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court seeking to invalidate the franchise of the media giant and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Covergence Inc. over alleged violations, which the company denied.
The question is, should ABS-CBN be blamed for their expired franchise resulting in the shutdown when it already had filed several bills seeking to extend its broadcast operations for another 25 years as early as November 2016?
Nueva Ecija Representative Micaela Violago filed House Bill (HB) 4349 in the 17th Congress seeking to renew the franchise of the media conglomerate for another 25 years and refiled it again in July 2019 in the 18th Congress.
By August 2019, three bills seeking to renew the ABS-CBN franchise were filed. However, the bills remain pending in the House of Congress just like the first bill filed.
On September 2, 2019, Deputy Speaker and Batangas Sixth District Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto filed HB 4305, the fifth bill seeking to extend the media network’s operations for another 25 years.
By the end of 2019, three bills were filed in the House of Congress summing up to eight bills seeking to renew the network’s old franchise.
In January, two new bills were filed in the House, but just like the previous bills, these remain pending.
The 11th bill was filed by Deputy Speaker and Antique Rep. Loren Legarda, which remains pending at the committee level until now.
For almost four years, why did Congress fail to prioritize and pass the resolutions filed seeking to renew the network’s franchise?
The largest media network in the country has been the target of President Rodrigo Duterte’s ire and he has repeatedly threatened to block the franchise extension of ABS-CBN.
In attacking the media company, Duterte called it “bias” for airing news that attacked the current administration, and accused it of “swindling” him after failing to air his presidential advertisements during the 2016 National Election.
Even House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has an ax to grind against the network which he felt gave unfair airtime to vice presidential candidates during the campaign.
Furthermore, the president previously mentioned that Lopez Holdings Corp. has unpaid obligations which were seconded by Duterte’s supporters who claimed that the network was not paying the right taxes.
However, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) clarified that ABS-CBN has no tax liabilities. Aside from BIR, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) further explained that the media giant did not violate anything in their agencies.
Despite the effort of the senators and employees of the Lopez-owned broadcasting company to persuade the government to extend the franchise, these were all trashed as NTC decided to issue CDO against the network.
Many netizens including lawmakers blame Cayetano for the closure of ABS-CBN for allegedly just sleeping on the issue and not doing his job.
Meanwhile, SolGen Calida earlier said that Congress was to blame for the network’s shutdown and not NTC officials who “are only following the law.”
He asked: “The bill renewing ABS-CBN’s franchise has been pending in Congress since 2016. The question we should be asking is, why hasn’t Congress acted on it? Who is at fault here?”
Now that the blame is passed back and forth, which among the involved parties in the issue surrounding ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal should be liable?
Since ABS-CBN has done its part of passing bills, the decision is not in its hands.