Both Senate Majority and Minority Leaders Juan Miguel Zubiri and Franklin Drilon advised the ABS-CBN Corporation to seek redress from the Supreme Court over the National Telecommunications Commision's (NTC) order to shut down after its franchise expired on May 4.
"I find it highly irregular and improper in this time of international pandemic that we will cut off a major television station that provides information dissemination as well as information gathering to all our people. I'm really saddened by the move of the National Telecommunications Commision," Zubiri said during the plenary session.
"Maybe ABS-CBN, the company could seek redress to the Supreme Court because they can cite many instances where the NTC has given provisional authority for those who are still applying... I believe they can ask for a temporary restraining order," he added.
Drilon said the move against the media company was "contrary to law" and a "grave abuse of discretion."
"I would join the opinion of the Majority leader that indeed the remedy is only in the Supreme Court," Drilon said.
"There is no harm in allowing ABS-CBN to continue broadcasting and it would even be to the benefit of the public that information will continue at this very difficult time," he added.
The NTC on Tuesday ordered ABS-CBN to halt operating its various TV and radio stations nationwide following the expiration of its 25-year legislative franchise on May 4.
Senator Bong Go urged lawmakers in the House of Representatives to act swiftly on the pending franchise bills.
"Now that session has already resumed, I am urging the House of Representatives to act on this matter with due haste," he said.
"Upon reaching the Senate and once we have had a chance to conduct our own hearings on the matter, that is when I will decide and vote according to my conscience and the interest of the Filipino people," he added.
At least 11 bills seeking ABS-CBN's franchise renewal for another 25 years have been filed before the House Committee on Legislative Franchises since August 2019. The panel conducted its first hearing on the matter last March 10.
Senator Grace Poe, on the other hand, expressed confidence that the senators will be ready to fast-track the grant of ABS-CBN's franchise once the bill is transmitted by the House of Representatives to the upper chamber.
"I think the ball is in the court of Congress if they pass the franchise. I think ABS-CBN has 10 days to answer with regards to the cease and desist order of the NTC. Within those 10 days, I don't know if that's an impossibility, but certainly if it gets to the Senate I don't think there's a problem with us working to resolve this issue,'' she said.
Poe added that the order was ill-timed as this would be a grim development for media workers amid the coronavirus crisis.
"ABS-CBN and other networks continue to pay their talents even if they’re not working. With this development and with no security of their revenue stream in the coming months, I'm afraid many will lose that benefit of having some sort of support while there’s no work. Ngayon pa sila magpapasara kung kailan ang daming walang trabaho," she said.
Both Senators Nancy Binay and Francis Pangilinan expressed concern for the broadcast network's 11,000 employees.
“Kulang pa ba ang nagugutom sa COVID at kailangan ninyo pang dagdagan?” Binay said in a Twitter post.
“Ito’y kaguluhan. Sa gitna ng pandemya ito inaatupag ng gobyerno... Pero binuksan ang POGO. Para lang ba sa dayuhan ang puso ng pamahalaan?” Pangilinan said in a separate post.
Senator Joel Villanueva also said he is in disbelief at the turn of events and described the NTC's order as "heartless and unfair."
"During our hearing the National Telecommunications Commission gave us their word and so I’m just a little shocked that we are hearing this, seeing this," he said.
The NTC's decision was sadly not in accordance with its commitment to Congress, Senator Bong Revilla also pointed out.
"Sinabi ng NTC na sapat na ang Resolution ng Senado at sulat ng Kamara upang mabibigyan ang ABS-CBN ng provisional authority, then this happens. Nakakalungkot para sa mga libo-libong manggagawa ng ABS-CBN na mawawalan ng trabaho," he said, while adding that legal remedies should be pursued by the media giant.
Senator Risa Hontiveros likewise underscored that both houses of Congress have previously expressed their view that "nothing should prevent the NTC from issuing a provisional authority to ABS-CBN until that issue of the renewal or non-renewal is settled" by lawmakers.
"We need more, not fewer voices of responsible media and press... lalo na nga po panahon ng pandemic," she added.
Senator Sonny Angara also voiced disappointment over the NTC's order.
"This is the time when we need a reliable source of information and we decide to shut down one of the sources that’s practically in the household of every Filipino? So where do the Filipinos get their news now? From the internet where there’s a lot of fake news? Or through texts when there’s a lot of spam texts?" he said.
"In the middle of a pandemic and a recession. Grabe ito," he added.
Senator Richard Gordon likewise lamented that the NTC’s order came at a time when the government and the media must be “allies, not adversaries” as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.
Gorden added that the order “infringes on the authority of the legislative branch of government, which is already in the process of deliberating the franchise.”
“If there was a violation of the franchise agreement on the part of ABS-CBN, then the proper charges must be filed and it will be up to the judicial branch of government to decide and, if it so pleases, to impose a very substantial fine,” the senator said.
However, it issued a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN after the Office of the Solicitor General, its legal counsel, warned that NTC executives could face graft charges should they allow ABS-CBN and its affiliate to continue operations through provisional authorities after their 25-year franchises lapsed on May 4.
An NTC executive has said that the Solicitor General's threat had nothing to do with the commission's decision. -NB/BM, GMA News