Senate Committee eyes law to ‘automatically extend’ franchises pending in Congress

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The Senate Committee on Public Services “will look” into the possibility of crafting a bill that would “automatically extend for a certain period” expired franchises.

This, the Senate Committee said provided that a renewal bid is still pending in Congress.

Lawmakers have to solve a “gap in the law” to ensure that networks and their employees are not left in limbo should Congress fail to act on their franchise applications, the panel’s chair Sen. Grace Poe said on Tuesday.

“Hindi naman natin puwede sabihin na open-ended forever. Baka ang mangyari kasi mawalan kami ng sense of urgency, kaming mga mambabatas (We cannot leave it open-ended forever. If we do that, we lawmakers might lose our sense of urgency.),” Poe said.

“So kailangan natin ilagay sa isang batas ang kinakailangan na ‘pag ang prangkisa mo ay mag-e-expire na, puwede kang automatically extended for a certain period (So we have to put in place a law that will automatically extend your franchise for a certain period if it is about to expire.),” Poe said.

The proposed policy has yet to be drafted but it would likely contain “remedial measures” for companies with nearly-expired franchises, Poe said, noting that Congress cannot be compelled to prioritize tackling franchise bills.

The plan followed the shutdown of ABS-CBN Corp’s broadcast operations after its franchise lapsed on May 4. Its bid for franchise renewal has been pending for years.

Sen. Lito Lapid filed a separate bill that would provide provisional licenses to radio stations with pending franchise renewal applications before Congress.

Under Lapid’s Senate Bill No. 1522, the “validity of the provisional renewal shall be until the next adjournment of Congress.”

“Malinaw na may pagkukulang o butas sa ating batas kaugnay sa pagrenew ng prangkisa ng isang kumpanya pero kaya naman itong remedyuhan ng isa ring batas (It is clear that there is a loophole or gap in our law with regards to franchise renewals, but this can also be remedied by another law.),” Lapid said.

Lapid did not explain why his bill was limited to radio stations.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevara first pointed out the legal loophole when Poe’s committee tackled ABS-CBN’s franchise issue in February.

“The DOJ stands by its position that there is sufficient equitable basis to allow broadcast entities to continue operating while the bills for the renewal of their franchise remain pending with Congress,” Guevarra said.

DOJ maintains broadcast outlets can continue ops pending franchise renewal
In March, the House of Representatives and the Senate issued resolutions directing the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to issue a temporary permit for ABS-CBN, whose 25-year franchise renewal bid has languished in the House Legislative Franchises Committee since 2014.

The NTC did not heed Congress’ directive and ordered the Philippines’ largest media network off the air on May 5 without due process.

Some 13 senators authored a bill seeking to allow ABS-CBN to operate until June 2022, while Congress is still deliberating on its renewal application./Stacy Ang

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