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ABS-CBN closure not a press-freedom issue –Andanar

By Genalyn Kabiling

The shutdown of ABS-CBN media network is not an issue about press freedom but of an expired legislative franchise, a Palace official asserted on Thursday.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio "Sonny" Coloma, Jr. tours and introduced incoming PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar in Malacañang to the Malacañang Press Corps and other offices on June 6, 2016. Andanar is a TV5 newsman before he was appointed by President Elect Rodrigo Duterte. (photo by Richard V. Viñas)

PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar (Richard V. Viñas/Manila Bulletin)

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar made the argument to dismiss the “unfair” international media reports linking President Duterte to the closure of the country’s biggest television network.

The broadcast station was forced to go off air Tuesday evening after the country’s telecommunications regulator ordered its shutdown over a lapsed license.

“We decry any claims and assertions associating President Duterte with the National Telecommunications Commission’s independent and impartial decision to impose a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN Corporation. Such claims are bereft of truth and just a rehash of an old malicious imputation to bedevil the President and his administration,” he said in a statement Thursday.

“This is not an issue of press freedom but an issue regarding legislative franchise. Democracy, and the free press and free speech that come with it, is very much alive in the country and effectively protected,” he added.

Andanar however asserted that “no one is above the law,” saying the network’s shutdown was due to the expiration of its 25-year broadcast franchise last May 4.

He explained that that Congress has the authority to grant or renew legislative franchises while the President “only signs the law to be executory.” The NTC, a regulatory body, on the other hand, is constitutionally mandated to disallow the operation of any broadcast network with an expired franchise, he said.

“Let us be reminded that President Duterte has accepted the apology of ABS-CBN Corporation and this thereby undermines any assumption that the President was behind NTC’s decision,” he said.

Andanar said it would be unlawful if the President intervenes with the independent, regulatory and quasi-judicial work of the NTC. The commission is mandated by law to decide on and execute any policies and programs that are in accordance to the Constitution, he said.

“It is, therefore, totally unfair and objectionable for some parties and some international media to insist that what happened to the network is due to ‘having incurred the ire’ of the President. This assertion is remarkably erroneous, lacks objectivity and scant in factual basis. Simply, a false narrative,” he said.

Andanar, a broadcast journalist before joining the Duterte Cabinet in 2016, said ABS-CBN may still resort to legal remedies to address its situation.

“Decision regarding the legislative franchise of ABS-CBN falls within the purview and wisdom of Congress and ABS-CBN has the right to pursue any and exhaust all legal remedies it deems necessary to resolve the matter,” he said.

The Palace official likewise extended his thanks to the network for its service to the nation.

“With the bill on ABS-CBN Corporation’s legislative franchise still pending in Congress at present, we would like to express our gratitude for the company’s service to the Filipino nation, especially at this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. The hard work and passion of everyone from the said media organization is truly commendable,” he said.

Several ABS-CBN franchise renewal bills have remained pending in the administration-dominated House of Representatives after the President openly expressed disdain with the network.

In recent years, Duterte has threatened to block the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN for refusing to air his paid campaign advertisement during the 2016 presidential elections. He lamented that the network instead chose to air a negative advertisement funded by a former senator agains him.

ABS-CBN president Carlo Katigbak eventually offered a public apology to the President for airing a political advertisement that offended the former Davao City mayor, and for refusing to air a pro-Duterte advertisement even if it was already paid. Duterte accepted the apology but refused to interfere with the work of the Office of the Solicitor General and Congress on the franchise issues hounding the network.


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://news.mb.com.ph/2020/05/07/abs-cbn-closure-not-a-press-freedom-issue-andanar/)

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