Press Release
May 7, 2020

 Headstart with Karen Davila May 7, 2020

Karen Davila: Sen. Grace Poe led the Senate hearing a few months back in relation to ABS-CBN application for franchise renewal. Good morning to you Senator Grace.

Sen. Grace Poe: Good morning, Karen.

Davila: Sen. Grace Poe, first of all, were you surprised with the NTC's actions given that during the Senate hearing the NTC said that as long as there was a joint resolution from both Houses, they can grant a provisional authority to ABS-CBN to operate?

Poe: I think Karen that we were all really blindsided by the order of the National Telecommunications Commission because it was against their pronouncements when they were in the Senate and I think that at that time it was quite clear that based on precedents and based also on what the Department of Justice had said their opinion will be, meaning that there should be equity in the gap of the law, that the NTC can really go ahead and give a provisionalized authority to operate.

Davila: Pero sa pananaw niyo labag po ba sa mandato ng NTC ang kanilang ginawa?

Poe: Ang kanilang ginawa na paghahain ng cease and desist order ay taliwas sa mga ginagawa nila noon. This is more an exception than the rule because in the past they've already, they were either silent or they just allowed the operation of other franchises that have expired but have their renewal lodged in either Congress or the Senate. Again, I've said this so many times before, this has been done, this provisional authority was given to Smart, it was given to GMA 7, it was given to TV 5, it was given Globe-Innove and PT&T, CBCP, I don't know. Clearly, it confuses us why the NTC now is having this position; and either they were really duplicitous and deceitful in the hearings or they were pressured by the letter of SolGen Calida, which for me is also quite confusing. I mean, I myself can't understand why the Solicitor General who's supposed to be defending a government agency, is in fact the one pressuring a government agency and threatening a case against it.

Davila: SolGen Calida said what the NTC did, he describes it as a triumph of the rule of law. And he says NTC only followed the law and it is actually the Congress to blame. Do you believe that, Senator?

Poe: Of course not, because Congress already made it clear by a letter enjoining the NTC to provide the provisional authority to operate; that was from Congress, the chairman of the committee as well as the pronouncement of Speaker Cayetano. And in the Senate, we actually passed Resolution 344 directing the NTC to issue a provisional authority for ABS-CBN. Now, if they want to be very strict about it, if they want to adhere to strict letter of the law, it's still quite arguable because there are precedents already that allowed other companies to operate. The spirit of the law clearly allows that because when you think of who may grant the permit to operate, it's clearly Congress. And Congress already said, "We are tackling this, therefore, allow them to continue to operate." And in fact, the NTC came up with a memo that said that during this time of the Enhanced Community Quarantine, all permits and licenses, renewals can actually be extended, I think 30 or 60 days even after the ECQ. Now, granted they did not specify franchises but that's clearly the point, at this time when we're experiencing this pandemic and the focus should be on mass testing, fighting the corona virus, the timing of this is really suspect. Remember, although franchises are given by Congressional grace, the basis of this is still public service. And what public service is being provided? Number one, information. Members of media are frontliners, they are the ones who cover what's happening in society, in our country right now. They're helping the government explain regulations of this ECQ. And aside from that, ABS-CBN is also providing jobs to 11,000 people or let's say 11,000, 5,000, how many thousands of people, particularly those also in the downstream industries that are relying on ABS-CBN. Now that the government can't even fulfill the requirements of giving enough social amelioration packages to those that need it, were going to add more people that will be in need of government support. I think the timing is really off and very suspect.

Davila: Senator Grace, Congressman Alvarez mentioned that he may file and hold the NTC in contempt. Cong. Lito Atienza completely blames Congress, the Lower House, for the situation ABS-CBN is in. Is it necessary to call the NTC to the Senate, do you suggest that?

Poe: You know, there's 10 days I think for ABS-CBN to reply to the order of NTC. I think the most prudent thing to do right now is number one, I hope that, I trust that our counterparts in Congress will act quickly on whatever remedial measures they think will be most equitable and perhaps most expedient at this point. Another thing is ABS-CBN should really better file, file a case against NTC or maybe a case to stop the NTC from proceeding with this, maybe a TRO from the courts, to seek relief from the courts. And the Senate, what most of our countrymen perhaps should understand is that even if we had a hearing in the Senate already, the franchise has to come from the House, it has to emanate from Congress. Sa ating mga kababayan, ginawa ng Senado ang lahat ng aming makakaya para sa prangkisang ito pero hindi namin maibibigay ang prangkisa na ito kung hindi ito naaprubahan na sa Kongreso. Kaya nga importante ang mga hakbang ng Kongreso sa mga darating na araw na ito.

Davila: Cong. Rufus Rodriguez filed a resolution for what he calls, Senator, a provisional franchise. Hindi na daw po provisional authority, iba raw po ito, provisional franchise valid until 2022. Is there a similar resolution in the Senate already as well?

Poe: I am not aware of a resolution in the Senate extending the validity of franchise until 2022 but if that's the cure that Congress has in mind and it's elevated to the Senate, and we need to act quickly, hopefully there's enough time because I think we only have 10 days to work with regard to the order of NTC; then I think that will be good if Congress really thinks that they need to deliberate further on the measure of the franchise of ABS-CBN; if they are deserving of another 25 years. But when you grant a franchise, it's not just the financial capability of the company or the applicant that you are looking at; you also want to look at the track record, you also want to look at other factors that will enable them to provide the service. And frankly now, who's going to take over the franchise of ABS-CBN. There might be people there with a lot of money who might be interested to take over the franchise, but what about the experience, how about the people behind it. Oo, pwede silang kunin ulit para magtrabaho pero iba na ang operasyon. And in the middle of this pandemic, if your franchise expires, ABS-CBN's franchise expired, we cannot grant a franchise immediately to another company that will take over. And in many parts of the country, the signal of ABS-CBN is strong. In other parts of the country, the signal of GMA 7 is strong or TV 5. So if you don't have one network present, it is possible that a particular community is not being serviced properly with information. So this is what we are trying to say. And if you say, 'You know there's just 11,000, what's that?' But don't they realize that there are others also dependent on this, the catering service, the security personnel, janitorial and many others; and if another company will take over, they will to start from scratch and right now, the focus should be how do we survive with social distancing and new health protocols. That's what ABS-CBN is trying to do now so that people can continue working, what is the new norm with this paradigm shift. How are we going to allow our actors to continue to work, how will we allow our reporters to continue to work safely. Would a new company be able to set that up.

Davila: Some have also connected this to the issue of press freedom. I mean, being a journalist it's close to our hearts that it is an issue of press freedom, but to be fair, many also say that it isn't; some say that, 'How can journalists argue that it is an issue of freedom of the press when there are other sources of information.' What do you think about that Senator? Poe: Yes, there are other sources of information, and thankfully, because we need as many outlets to provide checks and balances. But remember, when you threaten one media outlet or when one media outlet is in jeopardy, this also sends out a signal to others that we better be watching our back, we better be careful and somehow that poses as a threat for others who would like to cover the news fairly. So, I think that this has a larger impact than just on ABS-CBN. This is not just a tragedy for one person or one company, hindi lang ito trahedya ng iisang kumpanya. Ito ay trahedya ng lipunan, 'pag nangyari ito, sapagkat ipinapakita natin na puwedeng baluktutin ang batas para lang maserbisyuhan siguro ang layunin ng iilan. Nakita naman natin that the laws should be used as a tool for fairness and not just used for the caprices of a few. And it seems now, it's really, clearly, SolGen Calida who's shouting loud and clear that ABS-CBN has to be shutdown...And to the NTC, particulary, Mr. Cordoba, I've known him to be a quite a nice person and it's easy to talk with him, that's why I'm really disappointed about why he had to resort to this order, to shutdown operations. They could have reached out to us from the very beginning and said, 'You know, we are a little bit unsure about this, so Congress please better act or these are the remedies.' In fact, we asked for the NTC, 'Please give us a guideline of what the requirements are for you to issue a provisional authority to operate;' and they have not done so from the time that we requested in the hearing; because for them, they keep saying it's been done in the past, it's more like a tradition already, a precedent that's been set over and over again.

Davila: Senator, Sec. Harry Roque said that based on his conversation with President Duterte the other night, the President is completely neutral. He's accepted the apology and he asked his allies in the Lower House, vote according to your conscience, it will not endear, either way you go, it won't endear to him, vote as you please. What do you think is holding up Congress, considering that is the President's message?

Poe: I really don't know because I don't belong to the House. But maybe now it's a wake-up call for them as well, that NTC is not adhering to what it professed that it will do based on the opinion of the DOJ. I don't think NTC should be afraid. I think that the reason why they feel really threatened now is because of the threat of graft. But if you believe you are doing the right thing, I think your case will hold up in any court, and especially you have the senators behind you, you have members of Congress who will testify and say that, 'Yes we gave that provisional authority.' And remember, it's in the Constitution that franchises really come from both Houses. The Constitution doesn't really spell out all the steps that are necessary for you to be able to give that provisional authority to operate from the NTC. But clearly with the Congressional fiat, with an enjoiner from Congress, with a resolution from the Senate, which has never been done before, at least in the Senate, it's pretty clear that the intention of the lawmakers is to, at least, give that extension to ABS-CBN.

Davila: Senator Grace, anong epekto o mensahe po nito sa buong mundo, ang pagsasara po ng ABS-CBN ulit?

Poe: Well siyempre, hindi maganda 'yan. Many different fronts, there's the political and social, when others are saying that 'Is there really a threat to media in the Philippines?' Meaning is there a limitation in, is democracy being jeopardized. I mean that's a question, I am not saying tha,t it is but that could be questioned. Number two, it's also economic, if you are a potential investor to the Philippines, you'll be thinking they can easily shut down a company like ABS-CBN, why will I risk going there, if I would be under the same threat after I've already invested enough capital. So, those two things can be detrimental. Moving forward, number one you have the good will and support of other countries, democratic countries, that would question our situation; and then number two, what we need right now, Karen, are more investors especially with what we are experiencing the government is shelling out a lot. Instead of investing in more projects with the "Build, Build, Build," we have to focus first on being able to give support to our countrymen because of the pandemic.

Davila: Senator Grace, is it fair to liken this to martial law when ABS-CBN was shutdown in 1972 because some have also said there's no comparison at all.

Poe: Well, you can't blame those who will liken it, perhaps, to what happened in 1972 but there are clearly marked differences. Number one, in 1972, the military took over all media, I think in particular ABS-CBN, and the owner of ABS-CBN is imprisoned. In this case, they are not using the military to take over but they are using the law and they are hiding behind the law to push for their selfish and suspicious intentions. So, yes, there's a closure, an order for a closure, it's not exactly the same as in 1972 but still it will be a closure.

Davila: Alright, last words, Senator Grace. Moving forward, so the House suggested, well, Congressman Rufus suggested that provisional franchise, what, is there anything the Senate can still do at this point, Ma'am?

Poe: Unfortunately, we have to wait for the House to act before we can do anything really meaningful. We can express as much as we want, our opinions about it but no binding action can take place. Now, let me make it clear Karen, I'm expressing my opinion here, on the other hand, I've already said that in any proceeding under my committee and any voting with regard to ABS-CBN, I've already inhibited myself.

Davila: On that note, Sen. Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate committee on public services, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

Poe: Thank you, Karen.

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