‘ABS-CBN lost its franchise because Duterte wanted them to lose it. Perhaps because a party closely associated with Duterte is interested in picking up ABS-CBN – with its frequency assignment and all its assets throughout the country – for a song? Who knows?’
THE story of the ABS-CBN shutdown really began on November 11, 1931.
On that date, the Radio Control Law (Act No. 3846) was passed by what was then the Philippine Legislature, requiring a legislative franchise for all persons or corporations setting up and operating a radio station. To put this in perspective: at the time the Radio Control Law was passed, FM radio hadn’t even been invented yet, and there were no television stations in the Philippines.
In case you’re wondering, yes, television broadcasts do rely on radio frequencies. In fact, anything transmitted over airwaves relies on radio frequencies. Even Tiktok videos of Baby Boomers, regrettably. The ubiquitous nature of radio waves and the fact that frequencies are a limited resource both make franchises to utilize radio frequencies extremely valuable. We’ll get back to this later.
The second act of the ABS-CBN shutdown takes place on July 23, 1979 – when the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) is created under Executive Order No. 546, and its powers are defined. Notably absent from its functions is the power to issue any provisional authority for the operation of public communication utilities.
Which brings us to April 27, 1995, when the NTC adopts its 1995 Manual of Procedure. In it, we get a first glimpse of a peculiar term: “temporary permit.” It occurs only several times throughout the manual, and not once does it say that the NTC could issue it for television broadcasting purposes without a corporation first having a congressional franchise. In fact the Supreme Court put this question to rest in G.R. 144109, February 17, 2003, where it plainly said that a corporation with no congressional franchise cannot be granted a temporary permit. Years later, in 2006, the NTC issues its new Rules of Practice and Procedure, where “temporary permits” gets a facelift and a new name: “provisional authority.”
Keep in mind that throughout this entire time, the laws that define NTC’s regulatory powers were not amended, nor is Act No. 3846 ever amended or repealed. Which is a whole other future article. But I digress.
All this brings us to last week. After being threatened by Solicitor General Jose “Who’s Next?” Calida with graft charges over any provisional authority issued in favor of ABS-CBN, the NTC issued its now infamous cease and desist order. To which ABS-CBN responded simply by complying and going off-air.
So, for those who are reading this but aren’t keeping track – I’m looking at you, DDS trolls – the crux of the ABS-CBN shutdown comes down to two key points: ABS-CBN lost its congressional franchise to broadcast over its assigned frequency, and the NTC performed its ministerial duty to compel ABS-CBN to cease utilizing said frequency.
To be clear: It has nothing to do with “violations” of ABS-CBN. Please lang, DDS trolls, stop believing your own fake news.
This isn’t to say that the acts of the Solicitor General and the NTC are above board. To illustrate: if the Solicitor General believes – rightly – that the NTC has no lawful authority to issue a provisional authority to a corporation that has no congressional franchise to utilize radio frequencies, then why hasn’t the Solicitor General gone after the NTC for all those times when it “did” issue such provisional authorities? Why make ABS-CBN an anomaly?
Speaking of “anomaly,” let’s talk about the Speaker of the House Alan Peter Cayetano. Rather than hold committee-level hearings on the multitude of bills filed on the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise, he instead: relied on NTC representations on issuing a provisional authority for ABS-CBN, made grade-school-level “inspirational” posters that backfired severely, and held Kobe Bryant memorial exhibits. That last one, he did twice. I mean, all love and respect to the Mamba, but come on. That’s more important than passing laws? Really?
The simplest solution to the conundrum is, and always has been, in the hands of Congress: pass the bill renewing ABS-CBN’s franchise. What’s the worst that can happen? President Duterte, being what he is, vetoes the bill, and then Congress – by a two-thirds vote, voting separately – overrides the veto.
Does Congress have the spine to do it? Can it go against Duterte?
Because that is what this boils down to. ABS-CBN lost its franchise because Duterte wanted them to lose it. Perhaps because a party closely associated with Duterte is interested in picking up ABS-CBN – with its frequency assignment and all its assets throughout the country – for a song? Who knows?
After all, what are they in power for?