The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) expressed iconcern over the National Telecommunications Commission’s (NTC) decision to assign ABS-CBN’s old frequencies to media companies owned by the allies of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“We are concerned at the concentration of power in a corporate media landscape already dominated by conglomerates and political clans. This has dire implications on the people’s right to relevant information especially during times of crisis,” said NUJP in a statement published on Wednesday, January 26.

The NTC has given provisional authority (PA) to operate Channels 23 and 43 to Aliw Broadcasting Corporation and Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI). These networks are owned by Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, the spiritual adviser of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Conflict of interest, delicadeza or ‘business in govt. as usual’?

The Union also stressed how the NTC failed to conduct the “traditional public selection process” before assigning Channels 2 and 16 to Advanced Media Broadcasting System Inc. (AMBS), a media firm owned by media mogul and billionaire former Senator Manny Villar, whose family is a known ally of Duterte.

Villar’s daughter Las Piñas representative Camille is part of the Duterte supermajority in the House of Representatives. His wife Cynthia is the Senate their son Mark served as Duterte’s appointed Department of Public Works and Highways secretary for almost all of Duterte’s term, 2016 to 2021, until he had to resign to run for Senate in the May 9 polls, supported by Duterte’s party PDP-Laban (Cusi group).

During ABS-CBN’s franchise hearing in 2020, Villar’s daughter Deputy Speaker Camille voted against ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal. His wife Senator Cynthia was among the senators who opposed Senate Bill No. 1967, which sought to renew the media network’s franchise.

The legislature, composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate, has the mandate to grant broadcasting franchises.

AMBS was granted the simulcast channel number 2 until 2023, which the NTC said is “the paired analog channel in Mega Manila of channel 16.

Villar’s Planet Cable Inc. had owned AMBS since Congress approved their bid in 2021. AMBS itself had already been awarded a 25-year extension of its franchise in 2019 via Republic Act (RA) No. 11253.

In a radio interview with Ted Failon, NTC Commissioner Edgardo Cabarrios said that AMBS applied in 2006 and was the first applicant, thereby getting the first priority to be granted the frequencies. The frequencies, he also said, are a public good and convenience and a scarce resource and the frequencies given to AMBS has previously been left unused for more than a year now. Cabarrios also assured there is documentation the granting of frequencies were according to process and denied allegations they were given to favored allies.

The NTC said they sought legal opinion for the Department of Justice (DOJ), policy guidance from the Department of Information and Communications Technology and the concurrence of the Executive Secretary. According to Duterte’s acting spokesperson Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, the NTC’s inquiry with the DOJ and the Executive Secretary was “purely asking a legal question” and “seeking guidance” respectively, and made no mention of any private company or entity.

‘Looks like an almost midnight deal’

Infrawatch PH described NTC’s assignment of ABS-CBN’s old frequencies to Duterte ally-owned media companies as ‘an almost midnight deal’.

The provisional authorities assigning frequencies previously used by ABS-CBN were given on January 5 and 6, only a few days before the election ban on granting new permits for the use of radio frequencies starting January 9.

Subsection 6.4 of the Fair Elections Act or RA No. 9006 states, “No franchise or permit to operate a radio or television station shall be granted or issued, suspended or cancelled during the election period.”

Criticisms over beating the election ban on appointments and awards have been hit as “midnight” deals.

“Parceling these frequencies leaves a bad taste in the mouth given that the Duterte administration is already in its final month, and it sure looks like an almost midnight deal with these media companies.” Infrawatch PH stated.

The public policy think tank also said that it would be better for the Villars to “waive the award” until the next administration, as their son, Mark Villar, is currently running for Senatorial seat. Mark Villar is also part of Marcos-Duterte’s senatorial slate for the 2022 National Elections.

House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said, “The grant of the ABS-CBN frequencies to the Villars now, merely months in tho the elections and with members of their clan running for different electoral positions, may even be perceived as giving them undue advantage over their opponents.”

He called the granting of frequencies “an apparent payback of Pres. Duterte to his allies.” Zarate was among the 11 who voted to grant ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal.

“Just like what his idol, the dictator Marcos did during this time, this last-two minutes crony payback further exposes the lie of the Duterte administration that it is against the oligarchy. The truth is, Pres. Duterte has his own favoured oligarchs,” said Zarate.


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