JUSTICE Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Congress can authorize the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to issue a provisional license to allow broadcast companies like ABS-CBN Corp. to operate until their application for the renewal of their franchise is approved by Congress.
In a February 26 letter to the NTC, Guevarra noted it has been the practice to allow companies to operate while their application for franchise renewal is pending in Congress.
“However, a more stable legal environment could be created if Congress, by a concurrent resolution, would authorize the NTC to issue a provisional authority to these broadcasting companies, under such terms and conditions as it may deem necessary, until Congress’ final disposition of their franchise renewal bills,” he said in what was termed as a “formal guidance.”
ABS-CBN’s 25-year franchise expires on May 4. The House will tackle 11 bills on the franchise renewal in August.
The letter formalizes Guevarra’s suggestion last Monday during the Senate hearing on the ABS-CBN issue that a concurrent resolution by Congress would provide legal basis to the “established practice” of allowing organizations with pending franchise renewal bills to continue operating past the expiration of their existing license.
He reiterated that the Department of Justice cannot grant the NTC’s request for a legal opinion on the controversial ABS-CBN issue since it involves a private entity that would to be bound by the department’s advice, especially if the latter would seek redress from the court.
In the letter, Guevarra pointed to a “gap in the law,” saying current laws on franchises do not provide for the status of a radio or television franchisee when Congress has not acted on a pending bill for renewal.
He reiterated his arguments that this is where equity comes in. “Equity means the principle by which substantial justice maybe attained in cases where the prescribed or customary forms of ordinary law are inadequate,” he said.
He said equity has been used in previous similar situations such as in the case of PLDT Smart Communications Inc. which was allowed to operate despite an expired franchise because there is a pending bill for the renewal of the franchise before Congress.
“It is imperative that the same treatment be extended to all entities seeking the renewal of their franchises which are about to expire. Otherwise, it runs afoul of the basic principles of fairness and justice. It likewise undermines the trust and the reasonable expectation of the citizens that the state shall govern impartially and will not draw distinctions that are irrelevant to a legitimate objective,” he further said.
Guevarra also stressed that Congress has the “implied power” to authorize the broadcast network to continue its operations pending final action on its application for renewal.
He added that NTC could also issue a provisional authority to operate to an applicant until Congress could decide on whether or not to renew.
The Solicitor General Jose Calida has asked the Supreme Court to revoke the legislative franchise granted to the network for alleged abuses committed by ABS-CBN, which the network has denied.
Calida also asked the SC to issue a gag order while the case has yet to be decided.
The SC is set to hear both petitions on March 10.
ABS-CBN said it was “grateful and humbled” by President Duterte’s acceptance of its apology over an unaired campaign advertisement and it plans to coordinate with the Office of the President on the donation of a P2.6-million refund to charity.
The media giant, in a statement, also reaffirmed its commitment to become a “better organization and to continue to provide more meaningful service to Filipinos”.
The media network, through its CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak, apologized for offending the President during the Monday Senate hearing.
Duterte, on Wednesday night, said he has already accepted the apology. He also told the network to just donate the refund to any charity of its choice.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said the media network does no need to coordinate with ABS-CBN on what charity to donate the refund to.