EDITORIAL | Can the government spell accountability?
It was a dark day for Philippine media the moment ABS-CBN went off-air in compliance with the Cease and Desist Order (CDO) issued by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC). What made it even worse was the fact that those involved in the government refused to take accountability for how the non-renewal of the franchise renewal went down. The NTC, Solicitor General Calida, and House Speaker Cayetano simply washed their hands off the issue.
Looking at the events leading to NTC’s decision, we know that the solicitor general gave a warning to its officials a day before ABS-CBN’s franchise expired. Calida said that if a provisional authority (PA) is granted to the network, they run the risk of being charged in violation of anti-graft and corruption laws. This advice is in conflict with the initial commitment of the commission back in March. People were then caught by surprise when NTC issued the CDO to the network. In a letter addressed to House leaders, the commission apologized for not informing the Congress of its decision to issue a CDO and explained that there were no legal grounds for them to grant the PA.
There is no doubt that Calida’s threats triggered the NTC to issue the CDO. The officials had put more importance on the solicitor general’s warning rather than their responsibility to communicate their new decision. It is’s true that the NTC was just doing their job because ABS-CBN was still broadcasting without a legal franchise. However, it was also at their discretion to inform the Congress, ABS-CBN, and the public of their decision. Doing this would have also given the company a fair chance to appeal against the NTC’s decision. Instead, the NTC became the tool for Calida to accomplish his goal ofon putting an end to ABS-CBN’s franchise, something he has’s been determined to do since filing the quo warranto petition in February.
Cayetano intended to blame the NTC and Calida, but even this will not have any use anymore. The 11 bills filed by ABS-CBN for franchise renewal since 2014 speak for themselves — Congress has been delaying deliberations for too long. The speaker has reiterated many times that the franchise renewal is not urgent and the House is simply too busy to tackle it, especially during this time when the government is focusing on its measures against COVID-19. It’s questionable how the lower house can still classify the issue as non-urgent when the network, a vital source of information amidst a health crisis, has already stopped broadcasting. Moreover, what makes ABS-CBN different from other networks like GMA and TV5, who got Congress’ approval in a matter of weeks? The network was already cleared of any violations in a Senate hearing last February, which included tax requirements, pay-per-view service, labor conditions, and foreign ownership. Perhaps it was’s due to personal grudges, as the President himself previously expressed disapproval of the franchise renewal? Highly possible, given that Cayetano also has an axe to grind against the network for supposed unfair coverage during the 2010 and 2016 elections.
Truth be told, the lack of sense of urgency on the side of Congress would be the most glaring of all the reasons why the ABS-CBN franchise renewal issue came to be what it is now. The logic as to why the people in the government, be it the Congress or NTC, handled it this way will never be disclosed but the issue speaks for itself anyway.
ABS CBN’s franchise renewal is now in the hands of the Congress. The lower house finally decided to tackle the bill seeking to give the network another 25-year license after dropping their original intention to grant a provisional franchise. Hearings will start on May 26 and by August, the House will come to a decision. It is now time to ask the Congress, whose one job is to hear the merits of franchise renewal, to take full responsibility for the blunders in the weeks leading to the closure of ABS CBN.