A broadcast company owned by Davao-based Pastor Apollo Quiboloy has been granted by the National Telecommunications Commission a broadcast frequency formerly used by ABS-CBN Corp.
Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) president Dr. Marlon Rosete confirmed this to ABS-CBN News on Wednesday, telling the network in a text message: “Yes ‘yung ch43 ang binigay” [Yes, channel 43 was given to us].
The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) also confirmed that it granted Swara Sug Media Corp, the operator of SMNI, provisional authority to install, operate and maintain a digital TV broadcasting system on Jan. 5.
This was a day after the NTC also granted a company controlled by former Senator Manuel Villar a provisional license to operate TV broadcasts in Metro Manila and Mega Manila using the frequencies previously held by ABS-CBN.
Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) on Wednesday said it is “concerned” about the granting of frequencies last held by ABS-CBN to other companies, which, according to a think tank, appears to be an “almost midnight deal.”
While the NTC gave a legal and “procedural explanation” for the move, it was done days before the election period, Infrawatch PH convenor Terry Ridon said.
Under subsection 6.4 of Republic Act No. 9006 or the Fair Elections Act, “No franchise or permit to operate a radio or television station shall be granted or issued, suspended or canceled during the election period.”
The NTC orders assigning frequencies used by ABS-CBN were dated Jan. 5 and 6, a few days before this year’s election period opened on Jan. 9.
“Parceling these frequencies leaves a bad taste in the mouth given that the Duterte administration is already in its final months, and it sure looks like an almost midnight deal with these media entities,” Ridon said in a statement.
“They can try to legally justify it all they want, but the public will surely have none of it, especially with one of the Villars (former Public Works Secretary Mark Villar) running now for public office,” he added.
In a statement, the NTC defended its move, saying it granted the frequencies to Villar’s Advanced Media Broadcasting System Inc. as it was “the first applicant for an authority to install, operate and maintain a digital TV in Metro Manila as filed on Oct. 5, 2006.”
It said ABMS “received provisional authority after the determination of its legal, technical, and financial qualification.”
Channel 43 used to be assigned to Amcara Broadcasting Corp., whose legislative franchise expired in 2020. ABS-CBN used it for its TVPlus channels under a blocktime agreement with Amcara.
The spiritual adviser of President Rodrigo Duterte, Quiboloy already owns UHF Channel 40, where he broadcasts news and religious programs of his religious group Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
The NTC said that before granting Swara Sug its provisional authority, it sought policy guidance from the Department of Information and Communications Technology, a legal opinion from the Department of Justice, and the concurrence of the Office of the Executive Secretary.
“After the technical evaluation of AMBS request for a simulcast channel, Channel 2 (the paired analog channel in Mega Manila of digital channel 16) was temporarily assigned to AMBS,” the agency said.
“This temporary assignment is for simulcast purposes only, and only until the analog shut-off scheduled in 2023.”
According to business website Bilyonaryo, the NTC sought the DOJ’s opinion on opening up digital TV service to new players like Advanced
“The DOJ declared that the digital TV service could be opened to new players like Advanced Media because… the applicability of Memorandum Circular No. 07-12-2014 (which limits digital TV licenses only to those with analog TV operations) has been ‘altered by the change in factual circumstances,’” the website’s report said.
Bilyonaryo noted that Villar’s daughter-in-law, Emmeline Aglipay, was appointed Justice Undersecretary in 2018. Villar’s daughter, Las Piñas
Rep. Camille Villar, meanwhile voted in 2020 against granting ABS-CBN a new franchise.
The billionaire is a major supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte, and his son Mark was head of the Department of Public Works and Highways before resigning last year to run for a Senate seat in this year’s elections.
Duterte’s acting spokesman Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said when the NTC sought the justice department’s opinion, “it was purely asking a legal question.”
“There was no mention of any names, names of anyone or any private company or entity,” he told CNN Philippines earlier Wednesday.
“In the same manner… when the NTC went to the OES (Office of the Executive Secretary), it was only to seek guidance on the authority to
assign available and unused frequencies,” Nograles added. “Again, there was no mention of any time or any entity whatsoever.”
In July 2020, a House of Representatives panel denied ABS-CBN’s application of a new franchise despite being cleared by regulatory
As a result, ABS-CBN shut down its free TV and radio operations while thousands of its employees lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duterte had said many times in public speeches that he would see to it that ABS-CBN, which he believes offended him through the non-airing of some of his pre-paid political ads as well as the airing of a critical ad in the 2016 presidential campaign, halts operations.
The NUJP said the developments have “dire implications on the people’s right to relevant information” as the pandemic lingered.
“These networks are perceived to be friendly to the government and to one presidential aspirant. We are concerned at the concentration of power in a corporate media landscape already dominated by conglomerates and political clans,” the group said in a statement.
“As regulatory processes can be used against perceived critics, they can also be used to favor allies like the powerful Villar family,
which has a member in the legislative branch and, until last year, one in the president’s Cabinet,” according to the NUJP.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra had said the move was not premeditated.
Noting the explanation made by the NTC in awarding the frequencies, Ridon said that “what is legally and procedurally sound is not necessarily correct nor acceptable to the public.”
He expressed worries that “investor confidence will be dampened with this development”, saying “it diminishes the investment objectives of the amendments to the Public Service Act” as the NTC decision “shows serious political risk on future investments in the Philippines.”
“The way forward now is for the media entities to step back from the award and wait for a new government to provide fresh mandates on the ABS-CBN question,” said Ridon.
“This is most pressing on AMBS, which is owned by the Villar family, as they have a family member running for the Senate and who also
served in the Duterte cabinet as public works chief,” he added.
Ridon said “it might be better” for the Villars to “just waive the award until the next administration.”
“The public would like to see whether the Villars will recuse themselves from this award, as this is a question that will always be raised to Mark Villar during the senatorial campaign,” he said.
In another development, the NTC also granted Aliw Broadcasting Corporation a provisional authority to use Channel 23.
In a statement on Wednesday, the NTC said it granted a provisional authority to Aliw Broadcasting Corporation (Aliw) to “install, operate, and maintain” a digital TV broadcasting system using channel 23 in an order promulgated on Jan. 5, 2022.
“Aliw was the second applicant to install, operate, and maintain a digital TV in Metro Manila as filed on 30 July 2007, under Cast No. 2007-0126. ALIW has been waiting for an available digital TV frequency since 2007 after undergoing a quasi-judicial process which includes notice to all interested/affected parties and hearing,” the NTC said.