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ABS-CBN ordered to cease operations due to expired franchise

The National Telecommunications Commission has ordered ABS-CBN to stop operating its various TV and radio stations nationwide following the expiration of its legislative franchise, the NTC announced on Tuesday afternoon.

In an order dated May 05, 2020, the NTC directed ABS-CBN to stop operating in various television and radio broadcasting stations nationwide, absent a valid congressional franchise which lapsed on May 4, 2020.

"Upon the expiration of RA 7966, ABS-CBN no longer has a valid and subsisting congressional franchise as required by Act No. 3846," it said in a statement.

The NTC, which earlier said it would grant a provisional authority (PA) to allow ABS-CBN to continue operations, has given the company 10 days from receipt of the order to respond.

The latest development came days after the Office of the Solicitor General warned NTC commissioners that they could face Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act charges should they issue ABS-CBN Corp. and its affiliate ABS Convergence Inc. a provisional authority (PA) to operate after its franchise lapses on May 4, 2020.

The House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Franchises -- through a letter from House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and panel chair Franz Alvarez dated February 26, 2020 -- formally requested the NTC to grant ABS-CBN a PA to be able to operate beyond May 4.

In a statement, the broadcast network said it would comply with the order.

"Millions of Filipinos will lose their source of news and entertainment when ABS-CBN is ordered to go off-air on TV and radio tonight (5 May 2020) when people need crucial and timely information as the nation deals with the COVID-19 pandemic," ABS-CBN said.

However, the company's news channel ANC said it will remain on air. "ANC will remain on air as NTC's order does not cover cable news channel," it clarified in a post on its official Twitter account.

Signing off

Through its evening newscast TV Patrol, ABS-CBN gave its parting shot, with ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak delivering a speech. Broadcast journalist and news anchor Noli de Castro closed the show, saying: "Hindi kami mananahimik sa pag-atakeng ito sa demokrasya at sa malayang pamamahayag... Hindi namin kayo tatalikuran."

After the news program, the national anthem was played followed by a public service announcement in Filipino. "Hanggang sa muli (till we meet again), kapamilya," it said.

The station officially signed off at exactly 7:52 p.m.

Executory upon receipt

NTC said that its order for ABS-CBN to stop operating its various TV and radio stations is immediately executory "upon receipt."

"Hindi pa siya tumatakbo, hindi pa siya tumatakbo, kung hindi pa siya officially received," NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios said in a radio interview.

According to Cabarios, the order was received by a security guard of the network, as there was no one in its office. However, he added that he was not sure if this meant that the cease and desist order has already been officially received.

Should the network continue operations, Cabarios said that the NTC may request assistance from law enforcement agencies.

"[T]he Commission can request assistance from law enforcement agencies. If you do not voluntarily stop then we can request law enforcement agencies," Cabarios said.

Cabarios added that "the only remedy is a temporary restraining order."

"[W]e sympathize, but we have to comply with the law. [T]here are ways naman siguro for the contents of ABS-CBN to be held if there are some platforms that are available and baka naman po immediate remedies baka you can get TRO," he said.

NTC has sole authority -Palace

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque on Monday said the continued operation of broadcasting company ABS-CBN would solely depend on the decision of the NTC.

Roque made the comment amid the statement of Solicitor General Jose Calida threatening NTC over the weekend that its officials will face graft charges if it will allow ABS-CBN to operate on an expired franchise.

ABS-CBN’s franchise expired on Monday, May 4.

“Ang Solicitor General ay alter ego ng ating Presidente, at sumulat nga siya sa NTC. This must be dealt with by the NTC as a quasi-judicial body,” Roque said.

“Aantayin po natin ang sagot ng NTC. Ang desisyon po ng NTC ang ipapatupad ng Presidente. Hindi puwedeng impluwensiyahan ng Presidente ang NTC.”

However, Roque added, the network is free to challenge the NTC's decision. “ABS-CBN is free to exhaust all legal remedies available to it,” he said.

The National Union of Journalists of the PHilippines (NUJP) has slammed the NTC's order, calling it an assault on press freedom and freedom of expression.

“All this stems from President Rodrigo Duterte’s personal vendetta against the network, whose franchise renewal he pledged to block. It sends a clear message: What Duterte wants, Duterte gets,”  the NUJP said in a statement. -With reports from Joahna Lei Casilao/NB/LDF/BM/MDM, GMA News