Duterte "neutral" over ABS-CBN's franchise - Palace
President Rodrigo Duterte, who earlier threatened to close ABS-CBN Corp., is "neutral" over the pending petition in Congress to renew the franchise of the broadcast network, which was ordered shut down by the National Telecommunications Commission, Malacañang said on Wednesday.
In a television interview, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, however, defended Solicitor General Jose Calida for his letter warning the NTC against granting provisional authority for the giant network.
A day after Calida's warning against NTC commissioners that they could risk themselves to prosecution if they approve the television network's provisional authority, the latter issued the cease and desist order against ABS-CBN.
"Calida did not influence (the NTC commissioners). He wrote (to NTC), that's in due course of his job. He is perfectly within his right to write," Roque said, stressing that NTC is an independent agency exercising quasi-judicial function.
He also said NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba could not be dictated as he served several presidents already, not only the Duterte administration.
With the order of NTC, ABS-CBN television and radio stations covered by the franchise, which expired on May 4, went off air on Tuesday night.
Roque explained that Duterte could not reverse the NTC decision since it could only be questioned before the court and ABS-CBN's franchise now lies with Congress.
"The President's appeal now with his allies in Congress - since the position of the President is only Congress can grant a franchise," he said.
Since Congress is now in session, Roque said the lawmakers could act on the petition to renew the broadcast station's franchise.
Roque assured the members of the House of Representatives that Duterte would not have any reaction on whatever decision they would make regarding ABS-CBN's franchise.
"The President is completely neutral on that, vote as your conscience dictates. The President won't meddle on your decision," Roque said.
Roque also challenged those who were saying that Duterte could allow ABS-CBN to operate even without franchise to show the Palace the law.
"If there is anyone who can say that the President has the power to give franchise, show to us where is that provision (of law) and the President will issue the franchise," he said.
Roque said they were sad on what happened to ABS-CBN since during this time of coronavirus disease pandemic, it also carried the government's programs, such as Laging Handa and the Presidential Press Briefing, and it provided the people the necessary information.
But he said the Palace expects other television networks that they would disseminate the necessary information to the public.
Shortly after Duterte assumed the presidency in 2016, he threatened ABS-CBN that he would oppose the company's renewal of the 25-year franchise.
Duterte accused the television network of swindling him when his campaign advertisements were not aired and yet he was not reimbursed with his payment.
In a Senate inquiry early this year, ABS-CBN CEO Carlo Katigbak claimed it aired all of Duterte's national political ads, but admitted of the delay in the refund of the remaining amount of P2.6 million, which Duterte did not accept anymore.
Katigbak apologized if ABS-CBN offended Duterte over the 2016 campaign ad funded by former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Duterte's strong critic.
Duterte accepted the apology but was noncommittal on the renewal of the TV network's franchise.
Duterte accepted the apology but was noncommittal on the renewal of the TV network's franchise. Celerina Monte/DMS