The Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation and its partners strongly condemn the cease and desist order issued by the National Telecommunications Commission against ABS-CBN’s “various TV and radio broadcasting stations nationwide.” The May 5, 2020 order is a legal obscenity and a moral monstrosity.
The order, issued while the network’s franchise renewal is actively pending in Congress, runs counter to accepted practice and legislative tradition, undermines the public’s right to information especially during a grave public health emergency, and violates both letter and spirit of the Constitution.
The NTC bases its decision ostensibly on the fact that RA 7966, which granted the network a 25-year franchise, expired on May 4, 2020.
But the NTC conveniently forgot, under a long-standing legislative tradition, that other TV and radio stations were allowed to continue operations while their franchise renewal was pending in Congress.
The NTC conveniently forgot that on March 10, 2020, Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba promised Congress that it would grant the network a provisional authority while franchise renewal was pending. “May I assure this committee that barring a gross violation of its franchise of the NTC rules and regulations, the NTC will follow the latest advice of the DOJ and let ABS-CBN continue operations based on equity.”
The NTC also conveniently forgot that on May 4, the same day RA 7966 was to lapse, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra issued “the latest advice of the DOJ”—specifically, that “the Department of Justice stands by its position that there is sufficient equitable basis to allow broadcast entities to continue operating while the bills for the renewal of their franchise remain pending with Congress.” This position even does away with the need for a provisional authority from the NTC altogether.
But under pressure from Solicitor General Jose Calida, the NTC decided to subvert congressional tradition, renege on its clearly stated promise, and ignore the legal position of the justice department. Out of convenience or cowardice, the NTC decided to violate the constitutional injunction against abridging freedom of speech, of expression, and of the press. Against its own word, the NTC decided to subvert the fundamental principle of equity.
This outrageous conduct cannot be understood apart from the wider context of the Duterte administration’s war on the media: the harassment of Rappler, the bullying of the Inquirer, the attacks against VERA Files and PCIJ, the red-tagging of and cyber-attacks against alternative news groups and the arrests of some of their journalists, the state-sponsored trolling of independent media. If the nation will allow an unjust ABS-CBN shutdown to stand, we should all expect increased media harassment, more widespread and more malevolent disinformation, worse obscenities committed against journalism in the name of “the law.”
The Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation—a nationwide network of journalists, scholars, bloggers, and civil society representatives—joins other freedom-loving Filipinos in condemning the NTC order, in clamoring for the immediate passage of a new legislative franchise for ABS-CBN, and in calling for the NTC and the Office of the Solicitor General to be held to the strictest account.
Stand with ABS-CBN. No to ABS-CBN shutdown. Defend Press Freedom.