The House of Representatives today asked officials of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to explain why they shouldn’t be cited for contempt for shutting down media company ABS-CBN.
The order, issued by Palawan Representative Franz Alvarez, gave the officials 72 hours to provide an explanation. It was addressed to NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, Deputy Commissioners Edgardo Cabarios and Delilah Deles, and lawyer Ella Blanca Lopez, the head of the commission’s legal branch.
Alvarez, who leads the Committee on Legislative Franchises, said that on a March 10 hearing, the NTC officials promised that they will allow ABS-CBN to continue its operations “until Congress has finally disposed of the franchise renewal bills, consistent with precedents and practice and the position of the Department of Justice as well as the clear directive of the House of Representatives that ABS-CBN Corporation should be allowed to continue to operate until such time that Congress has made a decision on its application.”
He added that by giving ABS-CBN the cease-and-desist order, the NTC officials committed “undue interference on and disobedience to the exercise of the power of the House of Representatives, and therefore, an affront to its dignity and an inexcusable disrespect of its authority.”
“Your failure to comply with this Order within the period prescribed will result in a finding against you for contempt of the House of Representatives and subject you to other actions that are within the powers of the House of Representatives to enforce,” he added.
Earlier this month, Solicitor General Jose Calida said that NTC may be charged with graft if it issues a provisional license to ABS-CBN. The 25-year franchise, which expired on May 4, was the subject of much controversy after President Rodrigo Duterte said on multiple occasions that he would personally block it, alleging that the media company failed to air his campaign ads during the run-up to the 2016 elections. He also alleged that the company had broadcast reports which portrayed his government in a negative light.
The shutdown of ABS-CBN has led to accusations that the Duterte administration is stifling free speech. Amnesty International Philippines Section Director Butch Olano said the NTC’s order was “an outrageous attack on media freedom.”
“It is especially reckless as the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Filipino people need accurate information from independent sources. The government must act immediately to keep ABS-CBN on-air and cease all attempts to curtail media freedom,” Olano said.
“This latest move against ABS-CBN occurs after repeated attacks in the past against the network by President Duterte himself. It is yet another attack on freedom of expression in recent weeks, following the authorities’ legal threats against people who criticized the government’s response to the pandemic,” he added.
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