ABS-CBN goes off air following NTC’s cease and desist order

CMFR/PHILIPPINES — The country’s biggest broadcast network, ABS-CBN, ceased its radio and television operations nationwide on 5 May 2020, in compliance with an order from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), which reneged on its earlier commitment to provide the network with a provisional license.

The NTC issued a cease and desist order (CDO) to the network earlier that day, following the expiration of its 25-year franchise last 4 May 2020.

For only the second time in its history, ABS-CBN has gone off the air. The first time was  in September 1972 when then president Ferdinand Marcos placed the country under martial law.

The network went off the air at the close of its primetime newscast, TV Patrol,  at exactly 7:52 P.M., after airing the national anthem, and naming its engineers and its TV stations. The shutdown covers five AM stations, including DZMM, 18 FM stations and 42 TV stations, including Channels 2 and 23. Its top executives appeared on the newscast to appeal for support to get the network back on air.

NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios told CNN Philippines that there was no other option but to issue a cease and desist order for the media giant. “Wala na pong [There is no] basis of the authorization granted. Since wala na pong [there is no longer an] authority, they have to stop operating,” Cabarios said.

The NTC had earlier committed to the House Committee on Legislative Franchises that it will give ABS-CBN a provisional authority to operate pending the grant of a new 25-year franchise to the company. This, however, was opposed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, saying that there is no law delegating the powers of Congress to approve franchises to the NTC. Calida even warned of graft charges for NTC commissioners if they made good on their promise.

Calida’s view differs from that of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who believes that no law governs the situation ABS-CBN is currently in, which should have given the NTC more leeway in allowing the network to continue operating. President Rodrigo Duterte has been ranting against ABS-CBN since assuming office, accusing the network of fraud for not reimbursing payments for his unaired political ads. In 2018, Duterte said he would block the renewal of the network’s franchise. Last year, he told the Lopez family to just sell the company.