The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has been in the news lately for its controversial orders. This new, strong persona is inconsistent for an agency that has kept mostly in the background and non-confrontational.

The NTC is a government agency attached to the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and it is responsible for the supervision, adjudication, and control of all telecommunications services and television and radio networks in the country. As such, the office usually figures in the news on matters of franchise, channels, frequencies, or when there are complaints about the services of telecommunications companies, and about text scams.

Some have wished that the NTC had taken more action on connectivity issues and scams by cybercriminals, yet the agency focused on its primary functions. Past criticism of the NTC was on its “hands-off” policy in the telecom industry after it was deregulated and privatized. There were those who wished the NTC stepped in to demand improved services.

Recent developments showed the NTC’s active stance against alleged terrorist-linked websites and radio blocktimer agreements, a new face that others found unusual and unsettling.

The NTC has moved to block access to at least 30 websites, including those of independent media organizations Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly. The order was based on a request of then National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. for the NTC to instruct internet service providers to block access to websites that he alleged were affiliated with communist rebels.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and media organizations said the NTC move endangers press freedom and the exercise of human rights, and it is based on hearsay that cannot stand in court. (The Bulatlat website originally at www.bulatlat.com has been blocked but its content can now be accessed on mirror sites www.bulatlat.org and https://bulatlat.global.ssl.fastly.net/. Setting up mirror sites is a way of going around site-blocking orders.)

In another NTC order, broadcast stations were told to restrict airtime devoted to blocktimers to 50 percent. Blocktimers pay radio stations for airtime to broadcast their content. The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) said it will ignore this NTC order as it is invalid and “unconstitutional.” KBP spokesperson Rejie Jularbal said the NTC’s responsibility covers only “technical matters pertaining to broadcast,” such as airwaves, frequency allocation, and power limitation, among others, and not controlling blocktimer agreements.

Prior to the NTC’s site-blocking order and the one on blocktimers, the agency figured in the news largely on franchise matters, Elon Musk’s SpaceX low orbit satellite Starlink, channels or frequencies, and text scams.

NTC’s persona as one to go after so-called rebel groups or their supporters and blocktimer agreements to those whom it may deem to be anti-government is unsettling. The NTC has every right to turn proactive in the exercise of its responsibilities but it should do so within the bounds of the law that created it. It should not stretch its powers to what is unconstitutional.