THE legislative franchise of ABS-CBN Corp. expired on Monday with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) silent on the House of Representatives’ instruction to grant the broadcasting company a provisional authority to operate until the Congress decides on its franchise.
But other sectors have shared their view. In a phone interview, lawyer Stanley Kristoffer V. Cabrera VI, who serves as legal counsel for the Federation of International Cable Television and Telecommunications Association of the Philippines (FICTAP), said: “Kung nakalagay doon sa legislative franchise mo that there is a certain period accorded to you at mag-expire sya at a certain period, so expired sya pag natapos ang period na ‘yun. Walang ambiguity doon.”
(If your legislative franchise says it expires at a certain period, then it is expired. There’s no ambiguity.)
He also said that the ABS-CBN’s legislative franchise does not state “it expires after 25 years unless there is a bill filed” seeking its renewal.
The lawyer said ABS-CBN can still operate its TV and radio programs being aired via Channel 2 and DZMM through Sky Cable or other platforms such as Facebook and the network’s website.
“Kung may iba silang streaming model, pwede pa rin, operational pa rin sila. Halimbawa ‘yung news nila dumaan sa Sky Cable o sa ANC, okay ‘yun walang problema doon. Pero ‘yung broadcasting, technically wala nang franchise ‘yun,” he said.
(If they have other streaming models, those can remain operational. For instance, their news via Sky Cable or ANC will not have any problem. But technically, broadcasting has no franchise.)
House Committee on Legislative Franchises Chairperson Rep. Franz E. Alvarez of the 1st District of Palawan reiterated that his committee had “enjoined” the NTC to allow the media network to operate “until such time that the House of Representatives makes a decision on its application.”
“This will give Congress sufficient time to assess the qualifications of the applicant and make a complete review of the positions of the different stakeholders,” he added.
He said Congress should “be allowed the courtesy to complete the exercise of its power.”
The lawmaker also believes that “there is no reason for ABS-CBN to discontinue or stop its operations.”
Vice-Chairperson Rep. Antonio T. Albano of the 1st District of Isabela said in a separate statement: “I see no reason for NTC to close down ABS-CBN. In fact, it is more important now than ever, for media like ABS-CBN who has a far reaching network, to be open during this pandemic. ABS-CBN provides much needed information that government has been giving to reach everyone and keep us abreast on vital information that can spell the difference in saving lives and helping our country as we speak!”
“The good Speaker and I, with the whole Congress, again reiterate our call to NTC to give a provisional authority as we will deliberate soon the merits of granting or canceling the ABS-CBN franchise,” he added.
Solicitor General Jose C. Calida said over the weekend that the NTC cannot grant a provisional authority to ABS-CBN and its unit without their legislative franchises.
He said the NTC can only issue a provisional authority to operate to a broadcasting company if it is given a franchise by the Congress and is awaiting approval of its application for a certificate of public convenience (CPC) before the NTC.
His stand is contrary to what Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said at a Senate hearing in February that the Congress may authorize the NTC to issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN pending the renewal proceedings of its franchise with lawmakers.
Mr. Calida said the letter from the House of Representatives and the Senate Resolution No. 344 only express their sentiments and do not grant power to the NTC, citing a Supreme Court decision.
The NTC has issued a memorandum order allowing ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc., whose franchise had expired on March 17, 2020, to continue to operate during the Luzon-wide quarantine period.
The NTC previously declared that it would issue a provisional authority, consistent with Senate Resolution No. 40 adopted on March 4, 2020, and a letter to the NTC dated Feb. 26, 2020 from the House Committee on Legislative Franchises. — Arjay L. Balinbin