‘Silent majority’ of House for passage of bill renewing ABS-CBN Corp.’s franchise — Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza

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A “silent majority” of members of the House of Representatives favor the passage of the bill renewing ABS-CBN Corp.’s franchise by another 25 years, Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said Sunday.

“We have a silent majority who do not express their opinions publicly, but who support the extension of ABS-CBN’s franchise, so that the House can also move forward and deal with other pressing concerns,” Atienza said.

“Many of those in the ‘hushed majority’ are unwilling to speak out because they fear reprisals from the House leadership,” Atienza, former three-term mayor of Manila, said.

Atienza rejected as “nonsense” all suggestions for Congress to try to work out a temporary fix to ABS-CBN’s looming lack of a valid legislative franchise.

The pitches include the House and the Senate adopting some form of resolution that would supposedly pave the way for ABS-CBN to continue to operate in the interim, and/or for congressional leaders to endorse to the National Telecommunications Commission the grant of a provisional authority to the network.

“Why should we bother to look for a short-term remedy, when a permanent cure is already on the table? All that the House has to do now is put the bill renewing ABS-CBN’s franchise to a vote at the committee level, and then on the floor,” Atienza pointed out.

Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio on Thursday expressed support for the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise after her father, President Rodrigo Duterte, accepted the media giant’s apology over the airing of a controversial 2016 election political ad against him.

“Once Congress approves the extension of ABS-CBN’s franchise and the bill is forwarded to Malacañang, our sense is, the President will just allow the measure to lapse into law without his signature, in accordance with Article VI, Section 27 (1) of the Constitution,” Atienza said.

“Over the years, most if not all franchise bills approved by Congress simply lapse into law without the chief executive’s signature anyway,” Atienza said.

Meanwhile, proffered alternative “reliefs” which are short of an actual renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise will not give succor to the network giant, its imperiled employees and the prejudiced viewing public, Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman said on Sunday.

“The other suggested remedies are not legal and viable even as they will throw ABS-CBN to a quagmire of legal problems and will render it a tamed hostage waiting for the elusive renewal of its franchise which could take until after the May 2022 presidential and general elections,” Lagman said.

Consequently, the House of Representatives must act forthwith on the franchise renewal bills within the remaining six working days before the Congress goes on Lenten break.

According to Lagman, the resort to other “reliefs” is unavailing because:

1) The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has no jurisdiction to grant a provisional authority to an entity which has no franchise or has an expired franchise.

Section 16 of RA 7925 clearly provides that “No person shall commence or conduct the business of being a public telecommunications entity without first obtaining a franchise.”

Moreover, in Associated Communications and Wireless Services United Broadcasting Networks vs. NTC, the Supreme Court held that “As long as the law remains unchanged, the requirement of a franchise to operate a television station must be upheld.”

2)  Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Rep. Franz Alvarez, as Chairman of the House Committee on Franchises, acting on their own, have no authority to instruct NTC to grant a provisional franchise to ABS-CBN in a purported letter which did not even have the collective “concurrence” of the House of Representatives and is against the law and jurisprudence.

3)  A Joint Resolution extending the franchise of ABS-CBN for a short duration is an amendment to R.A. No. 7966 which granted ABS-CBN only 25 years to operate, unless renewed by a legislative enactment, and is consequently unconstitutional pursuant to the Supreme Court decision in Ang Nars Party-List vs. Executive Secretary, G.R. No. 215746, October 8, 2019, which held that a joint resolution cannot amend a law.

4)  A concurrent resolution of the House and the Senate expressing the sense of urging the Congress to grant the franchise of ABS-CBN has no legal efficacy because a concurrent resolution does not have the force and effect of a law.

5) The “practice” of allowing entities or networks to continue operations pending the renewal of their respective franchises is a mere practice which has not been validated by jurisprudence and can be challenged anytime as to its legality.

6)   The doctrine of equity does not apply in the eventual expiration of ABS-CBN franchise because the law and jurisprudence are clear that there must be “no operation without a franchise”. Equity only comes in when the law is silent or ambiguous, and going against the unequivocal provision of the law is inequitable./Stacy Ang

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