House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano finally broke his silence Friday, May 8, on the forced closure of broadcast giant ABS-CBN, saying Congress will “rise to the occasion and fix the mess others” have made.
On Tuesday, May 5, ABS-CBN was forced to halt its television and radio operations following a “cease and desist” order from the National Telecommunications Commission due to its lapsed franchise.
The company's franchise expired on May 4, while bills of its franchise renewal, some filed since 2016, remain pending in Congress.
"As early as my first month as Speaker of the House of Representatives I already put on record what the priorities of Congress would be, including when we would tackle the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN," said Cayetano in a statement.
According to the lawmaker, Congress had to make adjustments to its calendar due to unforeseen events in the country, such as the eruption of the Taal Volcano in January. This, he said, was aggravated by the growing threat of the coronavirus pandemic, which as early as February, he was already mentioning as another urgent matter that Congress would have to immediately deal with.
"It is in this context that the leadership of the House tried to gain a consensus with the Executive Department, through the DOJ and the NTC, to allow us time to properly address the ABS-CBN issue in the midst of all the other more important problems facing the country," he said.
Earlier, the NTC told lawmakers it would issue a Provisional Authority that would allow ABS-CBN to continue broadcasting while Congress has yet to reach a final decision--a move that Solicitor General Jose Calida strongly opposed.
"With this assurance, we wasted no time in addressing the bigger threat facing the country," said Cayetano.
"Last Tuesday we were all ambushed by the NTC,” he claimed.
He went on: "Despite their assurance given under oath. Despite the legal opinion of the Department of Justice. Despite a resolution from the Senate, and several verbal and written assurances given to Congress—the NTC appears to have succumbed to pressure from the Solicitor General, and issued a cease and desist order to ABS-CBN.
"While this unnecessarily complicates the issue, it does not change the fact that the exclusive Constitutional authority to grant, deny, extend, revoke, or modify broadcast franchises; Including having the primary jurisdiction to make an initial determination whether an application for a legislative franchise should be granted or denied—still resides in Congress, and Congress alone."
Cayetano assured that Congress will do its job and "fix the mess others made."
"So for those asking what Congress will do—the answer is simple—our job. The Committee on Legislative Franchises will conduct hearings in a manner that is consistent with what we have always said. That is—fair, impartial, thorough, and comprehensive," he said.
"We would have wanted to do this in an orderly manner. But what we want and what we have to deal with are two different things. So this Congress has no choice but to once again rise to the occasion and fix the mess others make. To our critics, in and outside of the House, you are free to say what you will. As we are free to respond in our own way," he continued.
"As for the sudden flip-flopping of the NTC and the unconstitutional meddling by the Solicitor General in the business of Congress, I promise you—there will be a reckoning," he added.