Measure seeking to extend ABS-CBN franchise filed

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    BY WENDELL VIGILIA and RAYMOND AFRICA

    CEBU Rep. Raul del Mar has filed a measure seeking to extend the validity of ABS-CBN Corporation’s legislative franchise until July 30, 2022, the last day of the 18th Congress.

    Del Mar, a member of the Liberal Party, filed Joint Resolution 28 which the plenary referred to the House committee on legislative franchises last Monday.

    At the Senate, minority leader Franklin Drilon said he will file today a concurrent resolution which will express the sense of both houses of Congress that ABS-CBN must continue operations even after its franchise expires on May 4.

    He said the resolution will be referred to the Senate committee on rules headed by majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri.

    Drilon has filed Joint Resolution 11 which seeks to extend the franchise of ABS-CBN until Dec. 31, 2022, citing the need for more time for both houses of Congress to review the franchise renewal application of the network as Congress will again take a break on March 12.

    Del Mar said the passage of the measure would ensure ABS-CBN’s continued operations while bills renewing its current franchise for another 25 years are being deliberated upon.

    “Since there are only 11 session days left before the next adjournment of Congress on March 14, 2020, both the House of Representatives and the Senate need additional time to review, assess and determine whether or not ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. shall be granted the renewal of its franchise,” the bill said.

    Del Mar said the bill will enable Congress “to discharge its constitutional duty of protecting public interest in the grant and repeal of franchises, without trampling on rights to due process and infringing on free press and free speech.”

    The House legislative franchise committee opened its proceedings on bills seeking to extend the ABS-CBN’s franchise last Monday.

    Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, panel chair, earlier said the formal hearing will be held between May and August. Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano last week said the House will be able to tackle bills seeking to extend the network’s franchise only in August.

    The joint resolution will have to be approved by the House and the Senate.

    Drilon said the NTC can give a provisional authority for ABS-CBN to operate until the end of the 18th Congress or until Congress rejects the network’s franchise renewal.

    He said that the NTC can revoke the provisional authority at any given time should there be violations by the network.

    Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, during last Monday’s Senate franchise hearing, said Congress, by a concurrent resolution, may authorize the NTC to issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN.

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III said there is no need to pass a concurrent resolution since there are pending bills filed before the Senate and HOR for the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN.

    Sen. Christopher Go said there is no need to pass Joint Resolution 11 as all Congress needs to do is either renew the franchise of ABS-CBN or not.

    Cayetano has dared Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza to make good on his threat to push for a change in the House leadership over the delay in the tackling of the network’s franchise.

    “Ang panawagan para sa mag-resign ay ginagawa sa floor, you move na walang confidence o palitan (The call for the Speaker’s resignation is done on the floor, you move for a change on the basis of loss of confidence),” he told reporters.

    Atienza earlier said the House “should have a new Speaker” if the present leadership will sit on the 11 pending ABS-CBN franchise bills.

    Any member of the House can move to declare the position of Speaker vacant during the plenary session.

    Cayetano said the House will not be pressured into hearing and approving the franchise bills just because many sectors, including different media outfits, are calling for it.

    “I’ve explained a million times why it’s important to have orderly, fair hearings,” Cayetano said adding if his decision does not sit well with majority of congressmen, they could decide on a change in leadership.

    At least 93 congressmen led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman have signed House Resolution No. 639 which calls on the legislative franchises panel to report out without further delay a consolidated bill on the franchise renewal of the Lopez-owned network.

    Solicitor General Jose Calida wants the network’s franchise, which was granted by Congress, scrapped for alleged violations of franchise rules, which ABS-CBN has denied. Calida filed the quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN before the Supreme Court on February 10 and asked the court to issue a gag order days later.

    President Duterte has been criticizing the network for its failure to air his political ads during the campaign for the presidential elections in 2016. The network said during the Senate hearing that only some local ads had not been aired, and part of the refund, which was given late, was rejected by the Duterte camp.

    TEMPORARY LICENSE

    Former Chief Justice Renato Puno said even with a temporary license, ABS-CBN will not be able to operate after its franchise lapses in May.

    Puno, citing a Supreme Court decision in 2003 (Associated Communications and Wireless Services vs NTC) and Republic Act 7925 (Public Telecommunications Policy Act), said no person can start or conduct business of being a telecommunications entity without first securing a franchise to operate.

    “They cannot operate because of that decision by the Supreme Court. We were unanimous in holding that there is need for a franchise before the NTC can grant a provisional permit,” Puno told CNN Philippines in an interview.

    Puno said the NTC does not have the power to grant a temporary license “without the franchise given by Congress.”

    “This is also in RA 7925 which defines the powers of the NTC,” he explained.

    But a 1994 memorandum of understanding between the House of Representatives, the NTC, and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas allows the NTC to issue a temporary permit to operate to broadcast networks while their application for franchise renewal is pending. Under the said MOU, the temporary permit to operate shall be valid for two years, and can be extended for another two years.

    Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he is aware of the 1994 MOU but “it may have to be refreshed or replaced by a formal resolution of the House.”

    Guevarra also said his office will reply to the NTC’s request for a legal opinion today, “but will issue guidance instead of a formal legal opinion.”

    Puno though said that even without the Congress’ move, ABS-CBN should still be allowed to operate, given that some companies with expired licenses were able to do so in the past.

    Amid the controversy, Puno asked Congress to review its power to grant franchises, adding that while a franchise usually involves local interest, the case of ABS-CBN is a different tack.

    “If you have this particular kind of franchise which affects the Filipinos in general and this is not a bill of local application, perhaps that is one aspect that they can restudy,” he said, adding that the restudy should focus on whether the kind of franchise broadcast companies are seeking such as ABS-CBN should emanate exclusively from the House. – With Ashzel Hachero