Guevarra’s proposal to Congress on ABS-CBN

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    WHILE everybody including ABS-CBN itself believed that its franchise will lapse on March 30, 2020, it took a lawyer, the Secretary of Justice, to point out that the franchise in question is still valid until May 4, 2020, because the effectivity of the said franchise was 15 days after it was published on April 19, 1995.

    This is important because both the radio-TV network and critics of ABS-CBN who support President Duterte’s position have been exerting strong pressure on Congress to further their respective hardened positions, with the pro-ABS-CBN camp obviously doing an overdrive. With Secretary Menardo Guevarra himself saying that the franchise won’t expire until May 4 yet, then perhaps cooler heads would prevail and put this question of franchise renewal on a more intellectual plane.

    In a sense, the initiative of Sen. Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate public services committee, to hold a public hearing not on the issue of renewal but on concerns about how the network is using its franchise and if there were violations or not on the way it adheres to the provisions of this legislative privilege is a step in the right direction. At least, basic questions about how the giant network operates were taken up with the company executives, the Kapisanan ng mga Broadcaster sa Pilipinas (KBP) and the opposition.

    The past several days were spent by radio station DZMM and ABS-CBN Channel 2 not so much to report the news but to report and give precious minutes to self-serving statements and interviews of support for renewal of its franchise. This is not exactly any detached, disinterested Filipino’s idea of “in the service of the Filipino” that the company executives repeat as mantra.

    The Left, joined by labor and environmental groups, known critics of President Duterte, and well-meaning senators like Sonny Angara, took the trouble of pointing out that some 11,000 workers of ABS-CBN would lose their jobs should the House of Representatives fail to renew its franchise by the end of next month. This isn’t accurate, if not a downright lie, because even if the company indeed employs 11,000 individual workers, some of these employees are working at Star Cinema making movies, and you do not need a franchise to produce and market feature films. For sure, these workers in ABS-CBN’s movie studios should be counted out from the total workers whose jobs are threatened.

    One good that came out from yesterday’s Senate hearing of the Poe committee is Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s suggestion to Congress to pass a resolution authorizing the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to issue a provisional authority to allow ABS-CBN Corporation to continue to operate even without a franchise.

    Secretary Guevarra said such “considerations of equity” will help the media network cope while the various measures calling for the renewal of its franchise are still pending at the House of Representatives.

    “Considerations of equity have apparently been applied in previous similar situations presented earlier, namely, among others, PT&T, Smart Communications Inc., CBCP Inc., all of whom were allowed to operate despite expired franchises as long as application for the renewal of their franchises were lodged with the Congress before the lapse of their term,” Guevarra told the Senate panel.

    “The grant of a franchise is an exercise of sovereign power and under our Constitution, that power is vested in Congress. By necessary implication, such power of Congress also includes the power to prescribe the rights of a franchisee applicant pending final determination of the renewal of its franchise by Congress. It is, therefore, respectfully submitted that Congress, by a concurrent resolution, may authorize the NTC to issue a provisional authority, subject to such terms and conditions as the NTC may deem fit, to ABS-CBN and other entities similarly situated, authorizing them to continue operating subject to Congress’ eventual disposition of their renewal of the application,” he stressed.

    Guevarra’s suggestion should be welcomed by lawmakers and prod them to do their job now instead of grandstanding over this issue that is so pathetically private for the Lopezes and petty enough as to be a cause for division of a whole nation.