50-year franchise limit renewable– authors of ABS-CBN franchise

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The 50-year limit on franchises given by Congress is renewable, authors of measures granting ABS-CBN a new license to operate said on Wednesday.

This is in dispute of Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta’s statement on Tuesday that the country’s largest broadcast network has been operating for a total of 53 years, violating the Constitution’s provision on the period of franchises.

ABS-CBN was ordered to stop its broadcast operations on May 5 after the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) pulled out on its commitment to allow ABS-CBN to operate beyond its lapsed franchise.

The network, which has some 11,000 workers, has asked the Supreme Court to block the NTC’s cease-and-desist order.

The high court ordered the telecoms body and both chambers of Congress to respond to ABS-CBN’s petition.

Section 11, Article 12 of the 1987 Constitution states: “No franchise, certificate, or any other form of authorization for the operation of a public utility shall be granted except to citizens of the Philippines… for a longer period than fifty years.”

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said 50 years was the maximum that can be granted by Congress in each franchise law it passes, but this does not prohibit companies from getting a renewal.

“It is not cumulative,” Rodriguez said.

“Congress can give 50 years in one instance and it can be extended for another 50 years and so on. However, the practice is to give 25 years every instance or issuance. The Constitution is very clear,” Rodriguez said.

Zarate said that if Marcoleta’s interpretation of that constitutional limit is followed, other holders of franchises who have been in operation for more than 50 years should also be stopped.

“If we follow the logic, that interpretation, kahit ‘yung ibang networks na matanda na rin dapat wala na sila sa ere. I can only judge based sa kanilang station ID for example GMA-7 sinabi rin ng GMA7 na more than 50 years na in existence,” Zarate said.

“PLDT, also a public utility, was granted a franchise for 50 years in November 28, 1928 under Act No. 3436 … and, PLDT is still around,” he also said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday said the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has practiced its authority in issuing cease and desist orders in an inconsistent manner.

During a Senate hearing conducted by the Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes, Drilon asked NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba on how the body handled the previous cases of public utilities with expiring franchises but has already filed application for renewal in Congress.

“We never issued provisional license to any broadcaster while their franchise was pending in Congress… what happened then was we just allowed them to continue operating,” Cordoba said.

“The difference from those instances and on the ABS-CBN issue is that in ABS-CBN, a case for quo warranto was actually filed by the Office of the Solicitor General kaya po medyo naging untenable on our part to let it continue because of the clear letter of the law in Republic Act 3846 and as interpreted and decided by the Supreme Court in the ACWS case,” he added.

The NTC issued a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN earlier this month after its 25-year franchise expired pending the final decision of Congress for its application for renewal.

This was despite NTC’s initial commitment to issue a provisional franchise to the network, following the advice of both houses of Congress and the Department of Justice./Stacy Ang

 

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