Only Congress can grant franchise to ABS-CBN—Senators say

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Senators on Tuesday stressed that the grant or renewal of a franchise to ABS-CBN Corporation rests on Congress which was granted such “sovereign power” over it.

Senator Panfilo Lacson stressed the existing franchise of the giant network can be extended through a joint or separate resolution which can be approved by any of the two Houses of Congress.

“While a franchise renewal or approval rests on the Congress by way of legislation, subject to the concurrence or veto by the President, an extension of the existing franchise by way of a joint or separate resolutions adopted by either or both houses of Congress has no existing jurisprudence as far as I know,” said Lacson.

However, Lacson noted acting on the case if ABS-CBN is a good “test case” for the Supreme Court.

He insisted that the National Telecommunications Center (NTC) can issue provisional authority to ABS-CBN to continue its operations because this has been done in the past.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri emphasized that, every year, NTC has been giving provisional authority to applicants which franchises were nearing expiration.

“It’s very clear that the NTC may give provisional authority to those applying for franchises and their franchises have expired,” said Zubiri.

“If this happened to GMA, TV5, IBC, we will do the same in fighting for your rights to operate,” he said, referring to other major broadcast firms in the Philippines.

He insisted there is no reason why the NTC should not grant a provisional authority to ABS-CBN. He said other media companies have been allowed to operate past the expiration dates of their franchise.

“I do not see any reason why they should not do so,” he added.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the grant of provisional authority to ABS-CBN lies on the NTC.

“That issue has been settled during our hearings. I expect the NTC to allow [ABS-CBN] to continue to operate until Congress makes a final decision regarding franchise within this Congress,” said Recto.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the OSG should be reminded of its mandate under the law.

Under the Revised Administrative Code, he said the OSG shall act as lawyer of government agencies including the NTC.

“There is a conflict of interest there when the lawyer threatens to sue its client. It is NTC and not OSG that is granted regulatory functions under the law,” emphasized Drilon.

He said this is not the first time that NTC will be issuing a temporary and conditional permit to operate. He said it has been done in the past and has been recognized in the 2003 case being cited by Calida.

“The Court never barred the NTC from issuing temporary permits to operate. It merely said that the broadcaster cannot completely do away with the requirement to apply for a franchise, as provided under the law,” said Drilon.

Earlier, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said there is enough basis to allow the broadcast company to continue its operation while waiting for the renewal of their franchise.

“Congress has expressed the same opinion and it has support in past legislative and executive practice,” said Senator Sonny Angara.

Before it adjourned in March, Senate had approved a resolution intending to give provisional permit to ABS-CBN to continue its operation.

On the other hand, Congress wrote a letter to the NTC to allow ABC-CBN to continue its operation while waiting for the decision of Congress on its franchise renewal application.

Meanwhile, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises will summon the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) in a hearing to explain why it ordered broadcast giant ABS-CBN to cease its operations, its chairman Palawan Representative Franz Alvarez said Tuesday

This, even as the NTC earlier told the panel under oath that it would issue a provisional authority to allow the network to operate after its franchise expired on May 4.

In a radio interview, Alvarez admitted that he was surprised that the NTC backtracked and issued a cease and desist order (CDO) against ABS-CBN when the commission announced in a March 10 hearing of the panel that it would issue a provisional authority.

“Laking gulat natin na nag-issue sila ngayon ng cease and desist sa ABS-CBN kasi nga hindi ito ang ating napag-usapan. At malinaw, merong resolution ang Senate at meron ding sulat ang Lower House na sinasabi dapat ipagpatuloy,” he said.

“Nagulat tayo ngayon na nag-backtrack sila, so kailangan nila ipaliwanag yan sa atin. Sa hearing natin, ating iimbitahan ang NTC para mapaliwanag nila kung bakit,” he added.

The NTC has issued an order for ABS-CBN to stop operating its various TV and radio stations nationwide following the expiration of its legislative franchise.

Alvarez said the issuance of the order was such a bad timing, considering the country is in the midst of a pandemic.

He said that he had already spoken with Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on their next steps as the NTC’s order is a clear encroachment on the sole jurisdiction of the House to grant or reject legislative franchises.

Alvarez maintained that there is no reason for ABS-CBN to cease its operations.

“Ako tingin ko, pwede pa mag-operate [ang ABS-CBN] hanggang sila [NTC] mimso ang magpa-implement niyan. Siyempre, hindi naman mapapaimplement ng NTC agad yan, idadaan sa korte yan. So may proseso pa naman din,” he said.

“Ang committee ay naninindigan doon sa ating sinabi na walang reason para isara kayo or mag-off the air habang pending pa rin ang inyong application,” he added./Stacy Ang

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