Telecoms regulators in the Philippines have ordered the country's largest television network - a repeated target of criticism by President Rodrigo Duterte - to stop operations after lawmakers failed to renew its franchise.

The order from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) on Tuesday came one day after the 25-year franchise of ABS-CBN Corp's television and radio stations expired.

‘The NTC directed ABS-CBN to stop operations its various TV and radio broadcasting stations nationwide,’ the regulatory body said. The station did not have ‘a valid congressional franchise as required by law.’  The network's franchise renewal was pending in Congress when the Philippine capital was put on lockdown in mid-March to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The House of Representatives and the Senate resumed sessions on Monday, but they have not yet been able to deliberate on the franchise renewal.

There was no immediate reaction from ABS-CBN. Some lawmakers expressed surprised over the order to stop operations since the renewal of the franchise was already pending in Congress.

‘Congress has the exclusive authority to grant, deny, extend, revoke or modify broadcast franchises,’ said Congressman Franz Alvarez, chairman of the committee of legislative franchises of the House of Representatives.

Duterte has repeatedly threatened to shutter ABS-CBN, accusing it of producing critical reports on him, including his crackdown on illegal drugs that has left thousands dead.