BY WENDELL VIGILIA and RAYMOND AFRICA
EVEN if its 25-year legislative franchise expires next month, television network ABS-CBN can continue operating until 2022 because bills seeking a renewal of its franchise are still pending in Congress, House and Senate leaders said yesterday.
The lawmakers’ statements came a day after Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court seeking the revocation of the network’s franchise, which expires on March 30, for its alleged “abusive practices.”
The Supreme Court yesterday gave ABS-CBN 10 days to comment on the petition.
Isabela Rep. Antonio “Tonypet” Albano, a vice chairman of the House committee on legislative franchise, said even if ABS-CBN’s franchise expires on March 30, “it does not mean that ABS-CBN will close completely because the rule of thumb … is that while this 18th Congress is still ongoing, hindi po titigil ang services ng ABS-CBN hanggang po matapos ang 18th Congress (ABS-CBN’s services will not stop until the 18th Congress ends).”
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said ABS-CBN’s legislative franchise is deemed extended until March 2022 or the end of the 18th Congress because of the pending bills.
“Even provisional authority is not necessary because as long as there is a pending franchise or pending bill for extension of franchise, they are deemed extended,” said Sotto who was chair of the Senate public services committee during the 10th Congress in 1998.
The House legislative franchise committee, which is chaired by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, has the option to approve or deny the renewal bid.
PBA party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles said ABS-CBN, an author of a bill seeking to renew the franchise of the network’s subsidiary ABS-CBN Convergence Inc., said the network can continue operating if it will be able to secure provisional authority from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).
“It doesn’t mean that they will automatically go off the air but it will be off the air if the NTC will not give them provisional authority pending the hearings of Congress, or the dissipation of Congress when it comes to congressional franchise,” he said.
The panel has yet to set a hearing date on the various bills. Albano said the date will be known once “we get the leadership to agree on a set date.”
This dilly-dallying prompted Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza to call for Alvarez’ resignation the other day.
Albano defended Alvarez, saying there are a lot of other franchise bills pending with the committee.
Albano also said he expects the House to send a representative to the SC to discuss its position which is “all things regarding franchise is the sole prerogative of Congress as stated by the Constitution.”
Sotto said if the pending franchise renewal application of ABS-CBN is not acted upon by the House of Representatives until March 13 or when both house of Congress take another break, the network giant can still continue operations.
“If it is not approved until March 2022, that is the only time that it is deemed terminated.
As long as there is a bill filed, it is deemed extended … It has happened so many times in other franchises,” he said.
Sotto said a network loses its privilege to operate if it has not filed for a franchise renewal before its actual franchise expiration date expireS.
He said if by March 2022, Congress still has not acted on the bid for renewal, ABS-CBN can apply for a new franchise so it can continue operations.
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said ABS-CBN cannot operate longer than March 30 without a legislative franchise.
“They need a franchise to operate,” he said.
‘ABUSE OF POWER’
Vice President Leni Robredo said the attempt to put an end to ABS-CBN’s operation is clearly proof of “abuse of power.”
“Panggigipit ito, ayon sa pansariling agenda ng iilang nasa poder. Samakatuwid: Pang-aabuso ito ng kapangyarihan (This is repression based on the agenda of some people in power. In other words, this is an abuse of power),” Robredo said in a statement.
The Vice President said the public should take interest in the network giant’s case because it is an issue of power. She said if government can do this to a powerful network, how long will it take for government to dictate on smaller networks, radio stations, and social media feeds.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, a leader of the opposition, said quo warranto is again being used “to oust the jurisdiction of Congress, which has the sole authority to grant and renew franchises.”
“The decision should be made by members of the House to exercise its congressional power to grant or cancel a franchise. Most probably this is the first opportunity that the House and the Congress will be given the chance to override of a veto of the President, which has never been done before. That could happen,” he told ANC Channel.
Atienza urged Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to direct the 46-member House committee on legislative franchises to convene at once in order to debate and decide on the bills.
Atienza said the “stubborn refusal” of committee chair Alvarez to call a meeting to tackle the renewal of ABS-CBN’s legislative franchise “has made a mockery of the House as a deliberative body.”
“We’ve counted 10 separate bills – authored by 15 House members in all – calling for the extension of ABS-CBN’s franchise. Many of these measures have been pending for months.
The chairperson cannot just ignore these bills put forth by his colleagues,” Atienza said.
A check with the House website indicates that the last time Alvarez’ panel actually held a meeting was three months ago, or on Nov. 13, 2019. – With Ashzel Hachero