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What Is the Fastest Way to Get ABS-CBN Back on Air?

A lawmaker explains.
ILLUSTRATOR Rey Etable
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ABS-CBN’s channel remains black, two days after the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) ordered the network’s nationwide shutdown. At 7:52 p.m., millions watched as ABS-CBN signed off for the first time since 1972 during martial law.

ABS-CBN leaves behind millions of Filipinos who have relied on the non-cable channel for reliable information, particularly during this worrisome pandemic. In the wake of the shutdown, many have rallied in support of ABS-CBN, criticizing NTC, Congress, and the president for the turn of events. Emotions are running high, but to get ABS-CBN back on air, they will need more action than words.

So what is the fastest way to bring the Kapamilya network back to broadcasting?

On May 5, one day after ABS-CBN was forced off the air by the National Telecommunications Commission, Congressman Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City, Second District, filed a joint resolution in the House of Representatives to grant the network a temporary franchise that would last until June 30, 2020. Joint Resolution No. 30 is the first document filed in Congress since ABS-CBN was closed, and it might be the network’s best chance to get back on the air.

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Joint Resolution Versus Bill

According to the Philippines’ legislative process, there is no real difference between a bill and a joint resolution. Both must gain the approval of the House, Senate, and the president to become a law.

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However, according to Rodriguez, a joint resolution will save much more time: “You don’t have to have a full-blown hearing. This is why we can have this approved fast. By next week, we should have a committee on the franchise, then the next week, on the plenary.”

Within a month, JR 30 could be passed, giving ABS-CBN a temporary respite while the house deliberates over a long-term franchise. On the same day he filed the JR for a two-year provisional franchise for ABS-CBN, Rodriguez also filed House Bill 6694 for a new 25-year franchise for the network.

“[A bill] requires a meeting of all stakeholders, meaning ABS-CBN will be heard, all the depositors, all the congressman, so it will take time. That’s why we give [ABS-CBN] a provisional authority through JR 30. During those two years, we can hear for the HB 6694 for the 25-year franchise,” explained the congressman.

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Rodriguez's joint resolution and house bill, both of which request for new franchises, are the only ones pending now as they were the first to be filed after ABS-CBN’s franchise expired on May 4. Other bills and resolutions that requested for a franchise extension are now null, because the franchise has already expired.

What Are the Other Options?

Former Senator and Sorsogon Governor Francis Escudero stated that the president could issue an executive order as the NTC is under the Office of the President, which was supported by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra. Rodriguez affirmed this, explaining that the president can order NTC to recall their order and issue provisional authority.

An executive order from the president would be the fastest way to get ABS-CBN back on the air, but according to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, the option is off the table as the president will remain neutral and leave the matter to Congress.  

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There is also the off chance that NTC will change its mind given the onslaught of criticism from various government officials, as well as the public. Thirteen senators have signed a recently filed resolution requesting that the NTC reconsider its CDO.

However, Rodriguez stated that there’s no point in waiting for the NTC to change its mind.

“We can't depend on the NTC anymore,” stated the representative.

What Happens Now?

Now, ABS-CBN’s future lies in the hands of Congress who must hustle to make up for lost time. Congress is being heavily criticized for delaying ABS-CBN’s franchise bills, and some of its critics come from within the House itself.

Buhay Partylist Representative Lito Atienza Jr. slammed House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano for his hand in ABS-CBN’s shutdown: “Pagkukulang niya ito sa bayan. He will have a lot to explain one day.”

Rodriguez admitted that “there was a lack of interest on the House leadership to tackle this early on, but towards the end, we can see that the House leadership is already for the extension and the continuation of the broadcast of ABS-CBN.”

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In February, House panel chair Franz Alvarez wrote a letter to NTC Commission Gamaliel Cordoba on behalf of the House committee on legislative franchises, enjoining the NTC to allow ABS-CBN to operate on a provisional authority after its franchise would expire on May 4. Cayetano believed that this would be enough, but this was not the case.

“This letter was backed by a resolution in the House of Representatives on March 10. And the commissioner promised and committed to issue the franchise upon the instructions of the House of Representatives,” explained Rodriguez.

NTC is ‘100-Percent Wrong’

While Congress lacked urgency on the matter of ABS-CBN’s franchise, NTC is not without blame. The office is receiving a fair amount of criticism as the CDO was issued during the height of the pandemic when many Filipinos rely on ABS-CBN for accessible information regarding COVID-19.

“They (NTC) are 100-percent wrong. They are in error. They are in bad faith. They will be responsible for what they did,” said Rodriguez. “Suddenly, they have singled out ABS-CBN without due notice. And in violation of directives of Congress and their own memorandum on March 18.”

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On March 18, NTC released a memo stating that any franchise that would expire during enhanced community quarantine would be extended for 60 days after the quarantine was lifted in consideration of the situation. NTC’s CDO seems to contradict NTC’s memo.

After the issue with ABS-CBN is settled, the next question to ask will be: What will happen to NTC?

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Anri Ichimura
Staff Writer, Esquire Philippines
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