Provisional authority to be issued to ABS-CBN

    89

    THE National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) yesterday assured ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation that it will be allowed to continue operating while Congress is deliberating on bills seeking to renew its legislative franchise.

    “May I assure this committee that barring a gross violation of its franchise of the NTC rules and regulations, the NTC will follow the latest advice of the DOJ (Department of Justice) and let ABS-CBN continue operations based on equity,” NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba told the House committee on legislative franchises.

    The panel, chaired by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, opened deliberations on the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise to focus on the House leadership’s request for the NTC to issue a provisional authority allowing the giant network to operate beyond May 4, the expiration date of its current 25-year franchise.

    Congress is scheduled to go on recess today for the Lenten season and will resume session on May 14.

    The NTC, in a letter on February 12, sought a legal opinion from the DOJ to find out if ABS-CBN may continue its operations beyond May 4 through a provisional authority which Cordoba later said the NTC will “likely” issue.

    “Based on the foregoing discussions, there is sufficient equitable basis to allow broadcast entities to continue operating while the bills on the renewal of their respective franchise remain pending with Congress,” the DOJ said in a letter to the NTC.

    The DOJ, however, pointed out that the adoption of a concurrent resolution authorizing the NTC to issue a provisional authority would provide a “more stable legal environment.”

    “The resolution will be enough but it will give the NTC more legal armor if the Senate will do the same,” said Cordoba, noting that the Senate has already adopted Resolution No. 40, expressing its view that ABS-CBN Corp. and its subsidiaries should be granted the provisional authority to continue operating pending franchise deliberations.

    Cordoba said NTC is “comforted by the fact that both chambers of Congress are aligned with the DOJ and the NTC’s take on the issue.”

    In a press conference, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the NTC’s statement before the panel is its way of saying that it is heeding the Legislative’s call.

    “I don’t think it’s good that the Executive will be taking orders from the legislative. So, I think it is the polite way of NTC to say, ‘yes sir,’” he said.

    Cayetano said the House could have sat easily on the measure if it had no intention to hear the bills at all.

    However, he said the giant media network should examine itself, too, and ask why other network’s franchises were easily granted.

    “Look at yourselves, too. Why is your franchise encountering hitches? Maybe you’ve done something wrong, too,” he said, accusing the network of bias in its election coverages.

    The Alvarez committee did not tackle the merits of the 11 franchise bills and instead focused on setting the ground rules for the deliberations to ensure orderly proceedings.

    Earlier in the hearing, lawmakers spent more than an hour wrangling on rules, which was settled after Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. moved to adopt a set of ground rules to ensure smooth proceedings.

    Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, another author, initially insisted that authors be allowed to deliver sponsorship speeches because not doing so would mean that “there is no pending matter.”

    QUO WARRANTO

    The Supreme Court en banc deferred action anew on the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida seeking to revoke ABS-CBN’s franchise.

    A source said the magistrates decided to act on the petition as well as on the subsequent plea by Calida for the issuance of a gag order on April 14 during the summer session in Baguio City.

    The en banc on February 26 decided to defer action on the case to have more time to study the pleadings filed by the parties.

    In filing the quo warranto case last February 10, Calida said the network committee violations, including illegal pay-per-view offering through its KBO Channel, as well as the issuance of Philippine depository receipts, which he said violated the constitutional provision against foreign ownership of mass media.

    ABS-CBN has denied violating any provision of its franchise. – With Ashzel Hachero