Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that the Senate’s and Congress’ separate issuances regarding the grant of a provisional permit to media giant ABS-CBN are not direct orders for the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) must follow.
The House franchise committee has issued a letter, and the Senate with a resolution, seeking to allow ABS-CBN to continue operations using a provisional authority from the NTC starting May 4, the expiration of its franchise, and until Congress could act on its franchise renewal application.
The House panel’s letter has already been questioned before the Supreme Court by a petitioner arguing, among others, that the NTC cannot issue permits to networks without a franchise.
However, Guevarra said these issuances “cannot be construed as direct orders of the legislature that the NTC is legally compelled to obey.”
“In any event, the DOJ (Department of Justice) welcomes the filing of the petition as it presents a very interesting question of law,” he said.
Last week, the Justice chief told senators that Congress, through a concurrent resolution, may authorize the NTC to grant ABS-CBN and other similarly situated entities a provisional authority to operate.
This was also the gist of his “guidance” to the NTC on the matter.
Guevarra has said that a concurrent resolution from Congress would provide legal basis to an existing practice in which franchise holders are allowed to continue operating if their license expires without Congress having decided their applications for renewal.
Lorenzo Gadon, the lawyer who questioned the House franchise committee’s letter to the NTC, said Congress should tackle the pending ABS-CBN franchise renewal bills instead of asking NTC to issue a provisional authority to operate.
He said a franchise, being a law, cannot be replaced with a resolution. “No one ever said that a resolution can replace a full-fledged franchise law,” Guevarra said in response.
“Here we are talking about a vacuum that arises when a franchise expires and the Congress has yet to act on the franchise renewal bill,” he said.
Meanwhile, the country’s leading news and entertainment company is being taken hostage by the House leadership to ensure it will be neutral in the 2022 elections, an opposition lawmaker said on Friday.
Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman, in an interview with ANC’s “Early Edition”, said foot-dragging the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN Corp., which is set to expire on May 4, was meant to tie the network’s hands.
“The more this renewal pends, the more ABS-CBN will be a docile hostage waiting for the renewal of its franchise. I hope it does not become such a hostage but apparently, realities would show that the hands of ABS-CBN are tied,” Lagman said.
Enforcing neutrality, Lagman said, is a derogation of the fundamental freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
“The right of a network to broadcast critical statements or to have a reasonable preference is part of the freedom of the press and freedom of expression,” he said.
For Lagman, this has been the goal of House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, whom he criticized for not acting on the 11 ABS-CBN franchise renewal bills pending before Congress.
“He said the hearings can still be after the 2022 presidential and general elections so that ABS-CBN should be neutral, should not take sides and should not interfere in the elections,” Lagman said.
The lower chamber’s move to hold a hearing on ABS-CBN franchise bills on March 10 is also insufficient.
“That’s only 1 day… It’s a very limited proceeding because it will center principally, as mentioned by the Speaker, on the instruction to NTC (National Telecommunications Commission) to grant ABS-CBN and its affiliates/subsidiaries provisional authority to operate,” Lagman said.
Congress is set to adjourn after March 11 for the Lenten break and lawmakers will resume session on May 4. /Stacy Ang