NTC to stop ABS-CBN from airing via other channels

THE National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) on Monday assured the joint House hearing that it would stop ABS-CBN Corporation from airing its programs using other channels, stressing this is covered by its cease and desist order (CDO) against the television network last May.

With pressure following a dressing down by lawmakers, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba assured the hybrid hearing of the House committees on legislative franchises and on good government and public accountability that it will issue an “alias” CDO to prevent ABS-CBN from using digital Channel 43 to air its programs, as well as its TV Plus operations.

“Ihihinto, opo,” Cordoba told the joint panel in response to Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor’s inquiry.

Lawmakers took turns in berating Cordoba for allegedly allowing ABS-CBN to circumvent the NTC’s CDO by using other digital platforms to air content, including Channel 43 or the Amcara Broadcasting Network, of which 49 percent was formerly owned by ABS-CBN. At the beginning of the hearing, Defensor, a vice chairman of the House committee on good government and public accountability, hit the NTC for failing to stop the network from airing its programs through its Digibox despite the CDO.

“This is a usurpation, an infringement of the power of Congress to issue legislative franchises,” said Defensor, the chairman of the House committee on public accounts. “This is a violation of the powers of Congress, of our [exclusive] constitutional mandate [to issue franchises].” In defending their action, ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak said the CDO did not cover Channel 43, but Cordoba later insisted that it was part of the shutdown order against ABS-CBN.

In the past, Katigbak said the NTC had permitted other broadcasting companies with expired congressional franchises to continue airing while Congress until such time that the franchise renewal application is approved or denied.

“We ask permission that the same privilege be accorded to ABS-CBN in the spirit of fairness,” said Katigbak.

Katigbak said Channel 43 should not be part of the CDO since ABS-CBN does not own it and has been airing its programs on the channel through a block time arrangement which is a “standard commercial agreement is company allowed to buy airtime to air (its programs).”

In dismissing the explanation of Katigbak, House senior Deputy Majority Leader and Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla said this “usufruct” was not approved by the committee on legislative franchises and is therefore, illegal.

“No amount of ‘palusot’ will be enough para payagan ang arrangement na ito,” said Remulla. “Wala na po sila karapatan mag-broadcast, period. This Block time arrangement ay palusot lang ‘to.”

Remulla alleged that ABS-CBN has been “illegally” using public frequency to broadcast its content and “conducting illegal operations for the past eight weeks.”

Later, Katigbak asked Congress to grant the company some leeway, saying that “between TV Plus and Sky (Cable subscribers), there are about 11 million homes that have access to our service.”

“Pag pinutulan po natin ‘yan, that’s almost 55-M people that will lose access to their entertainment, their news and information. Sana po ang appeal namin sa Kongreso, in the spirit of fairness, please consider that you have allowed to operate before even after their franchises have expired so long as Congress continues to hear their application for the renewal,” said Katigbak.

In his defense, Cordoba said the NTC has no intention to allow ABS-CBN to violate the CDO.

Cardoba explained that the NTC needs to threat the issue lightly because this matter is among the subjects of the quo warranto petition that the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) has filed before the Supreme Court (SC).

After consulting with the OSG, Cordoba said the OSG gave the regulatory body the go signal on Monday to issue an alias CDO against the network to stop it from using other channels to broadcast its programs.

“We wanted to be more prudent so we asked for guidance from the OSG and we got it today. Tama nga at p’wede mag-issue alias,” said Cordoba.

But Remulla stressed that he sees enough ground to file a graft complaint against Cordoba before the Office of the Ombudsman “because he has willfully disobeyed the power of Congress to issue franchises and allowing an entity to operate without franchise.”

Remulla said the NTC has committed an “ultra vires” act and so the House of Representatives now has the right to file a complaint against it before the Ombudsman.

“Kumikita sila (ABS-CBN) ng pera, wala sila prangkisa, eight weeks na po ‘yan,” said Remulla in lambasting the NTC for allegedly tolerating the network.

The franchise application is being deliberated before the joint House committees on legislative franchises and on good government and public accountability chaired by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez and Bulacan Rep. Jonathan Sy-Alvarado, respectively.