The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) succumbed to President Rodrigo Duterte’s wishes to gag broadcasting company ABS-CBN, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) declared.
“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.
“Even as our people battle a deadly pandemic, it carries out an underhanded assault on freedom of the press and of expression through a cease and desist order issued by the National Telecommunications Commission—against broadcast network ABS-CBN,” it added.
The commission's move came two days after Solicitor General Jose Calida threatened to file graft charges against NTC officials if ABS-CBN is allowed to continue broadcasting without a franchise.
Moreover, NTC's move was contrary to the commitment made by NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba before the House Legislative Franchises panel in March that the commission would heed the advice of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and both houses of Congress to allow ABS-CBN to continue broadcasting pending congressional action on 11 pending bills in the House seeking the corporation's franchise renewal on the ground of equity.
Before Cordoba made a commitment to Congress to allow ABS-CBN operate, the Department of Justice also issued a legal opinion that the NTC should allow ABS-CBN to be on air as long as bot the House of Representatives and the Senate are in favor of it.
While the House sent a letter, the Senate adopted a Resolution in favor of continuing ABS-CBN operation even if the network’s franchise is set to expire on May 4.
The NUJP called on Filipino journalists and citizens to resist assaults on freedom of expression, which has been a key to surviving tyrannical moves in the past.
“We call on the community of independent Filipino journalists and on all Filipinos who cherish democracy and liberty to stand together and resist this government’s brazen assault on freedom of the press and of expression,” the NUJP said.
“But just as the independent press survived and triumphed with the people over the Marcos dictatorship, we are certain that we shall do so again, that this regime that has run roughshod over our laws and disregarded our basic rights and liberties will not succeed,” the NUJP added.
'Like a thief in the night'
Another news entity that has been on the receiving end of Duterte's wrath, Rappler Inc., tagged NTC's move as a "betrayal."
In a statement, Rappler said the NTC acted "like a thief in the night" when it issued the closure order even after it earlier said it would grant a provisional authority to allow the broadcast company to continue operations.
"This is an act of betrayal against the public that ABS-CBN serves, especially as the country faces a pandemic that no government can single-handedly address," the statement read.
"It comes at a time when millions of Filipinos are left jobless by this crisis and need information that will help them navigate it," it added.
"For years, we've witnessed our democracy's death by a thousand cuts... This is a death knell and a call to action," Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa added. — with Jon Viktor D. Cabuenas/BM, GMA News