The House information and communications technology committee intends to push new legislation that will reinforce the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and give its officers fixed terms “to enhance their independence and insulate them from excessive politics.”
“This has been a lingering issue. The lack of fixed terms has definitely made the NTC unusually vulnerable to too much politics,” said lone Catanduanes Rep. Joseph Santiago, committee chairman.
Santiago was reacting to reports concerning the sudden removal of Abraham Abesamis as NTC chief. The reports suggested that Abesamis himself had no idea he had been replaced.
“This episode merely underscores the need for Congress to give the NTC commissioner and two deputy commissioners fixed terms. This way, they will be less susceptible to pressure, political or otherwise,” said Santiago, a former commissioner of the NTC.
“Right now, the three commission members do not enjoy solid terms. Naturally, their stay in office is totally conditional on whether or not they continue to enjoy the appointing power’s confidence,” Santiago said.
Should Abesamis’ reported replacement by Political Affairs Undersecretary Ruel Canobas push through, he will be the third NTC chief since 2001. Abesamis replaced lawyer Rolando Solis as NTC chief only in November last year.
Santiago said his panel is initially looking at the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as a possible model in bracing the NTC.
“The five commissioners of the FCC are appointed by the US President and confirmed by the Senate for fixed five-year terms, except when filling an unexpired term,” Santiago pointed out.
“But this not just about fixed terms. This is also about transforming the NTC into an independent and more potent quasi-judicial regulator going forward,” Santiago stressed. “Additionally, we have to raise the capabilities of the commission’s staff.”
The FCC is the US counterpart of the NTC. Like the NTC, the FCC is charged with regulating all communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. As organized, the FCC is an independent agency, directly accountable to the US Congress.
Under US law, the White House designates one of the commissioners to serve as chair. Only three commissioners may be members of the same political party. None of them can have a financial interest in any commission-related business.
Santiago, meanwhile, said he was not totally surprised by Abesamis’ replacement “viewed in the context of a previously reported bigger, ongoing reorganization of senior posts.”
“Our sense is, when Malacañang sought the courtesy resignation of senior executives, including the chiefs of state-controlled firms, all appointed officials without fixed terms became openly replaceable,” Santiago said.