Senate adopts resolution allowing ABS-CBN to operate beyond expiration of franchise

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The Senate on Wednesday has adopted a resolution “expressing the sense of the Senate” to allow media giant ABS-CBN Corp. and its subsidiaries to operate beyond the expiration of its franchise on May 4, 2020.

Senate Resolution 6, filed by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on February 26, 2020, expresses the sense of the Senate that ABS-CBN “should continue to operate pending final determination of the renewal of its franchise by the 18th Congress.”

The resolution, in consideration with Senate Resolutions 7, 8 and 344 filed by “almost all” senators, was adopted without any objection from among those present in plenary.

The adopted resolution can be used as basis by the National Telecommunications Commission to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority to continue its broadcast operations after the franchise expires.

While the resolution tells the NTC “to allow” ABS-CBN Corp and its 2 sister companies– ABS-CBN Convergence, and SkyCable to operate while Congress is deliberating on the companies’ franchise renewal bids,  Drilon emphasized that it does not effectively extend the companies’ franchises.

“We are not extending the franchise. We are just reiterating what happened in the past where NTC allowed others to operate even if their franchise was expired,” he said.

In the previous hearing of the Committee on Public Services, chaired by Senator Grace Poe, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra proposed  that Congress should allow, through a resolution, NTC to issue a provisional authority to operate to ABS-CBN Corp.

During interpellation and period of amendments, Drilon agreed that his concurrent resolution be made a simple resolution since the same does not have “the force and effect of the law.”

Replying to the prodding of Senator Aquilino Pimentel III to lay down the legal basis for the resolution, Drilon insisted that the concurrent resolution does not have the force and effect of a law.

“It only formally conveys the sense of the Senate about extending the franchise and does not need the signature of the President,” Drilon said.

He said the resolution, though just an expression of the sense of the Senate, “would give some degree of legal stability” if Congress could issue authority to the NTC.

Asked by Senator Francis Tolentino as to how it would affect the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, Drilon said the matter before the Supreme Court is separate from the resolution to be adopted by the Senate.

“Let  the ABS-CBN defend its position before the Supreme Court… (and) it’s the look-out of the Supreme Court (Justices) if they will be influenced (by the resolution),” Drilon said.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said there was no reason for NTC not to issue a provisional authority for ABS-CBN as it has been “standard practice” to let broadcast networks operate while their franchise bills are still pending in Congress.

“It is within the boundaries of these regulatory bodies,” noted Zubiri. He cited previous cases where regulatory agencies issued temporary permits for companies whose licenses are still pending in the legislative branch.

At the start of the interpellation, Senate President Vicente Sotto III questioned  why the NTC needs Congress to come out with a resolution when it issued in the past provisional authorities to operate to several corporate giants such as GMA 7, Smart Communications, among others.

The NTC granted temporary permits to 338 companies in 2015, 471 in 2016, 259 in 2017, 155 in 2018, and 300 in 2019, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.

“ABS-[CBN] deserves an authority to operate while their franchise approval is pending,” Sotto said.

The measure has been described as a band-aid solution to avoid the closure of the Philippines’ largest media and entertainment company while the House has yet to tackle 11 bills seeking a fresh 25-year franchise for ABS-CBN.

Thirteen senators led by Senator Pia S. Cayetano introduced P.S. Res. No. 344 expressing the sense of the Senate authorizing the NTC to issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN Corporation, its subsidiaries and/or affiliates ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc., Sky Cable Corporation, and AMCARA Broadcasting Network, Inc., under such terms and conditions as the NTC may deem necessary, until the Congress’ final disposition of the franchise renewal bills.

The 12 other senators are Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, Christopher Lawrence T. Go, Imee R. Marcos, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Francis “Tol” N. Tolentino, Cynthia A. Villar, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, Sonny Angara, Joel Villanueva, Sherwin Gatchalian, and Nancy Binay. /Stacy Ang

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