House asks NTC to let ABS-CBN operate pending franchise renewal

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 26) — The House of Representatives has formally asked the National Telecommunications Commission to give ABS-CBN a provisional permit so it can continue operating pending the renewal of its franchise.

House Committee on Legislative Franchises chair Franz Alvarez sent the NTC a letter on Wednesday, duly confirmed by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano. They enjoined NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba to grant ABS-CBN provisional authority to stay on air even after its franchise expires on May 4 until such time that the Congress decides on its application for a franchise renewal.

Cayetano and Alvarez also requested the same for ABS-CBN's subsidiaries and affiliates, including ABS-CBN Convergence, Sky Cable Corporation, and Amcara Broadcasting Network, Inc.

"Please include in their respective provisional authorities terms and conditions you deem appropriate to protect public interest consistent with applicable laws, rules, and regulations," the letter read.

Cayetano in a statement reiterated that the lower house cannot tackle ABS-CBN's franchise yet because it is still too busy with pressing concerns.

“As we have been saying from the start, since ABS-CBN will be allowed to continue its broadcast while we are hearing their renewal, there is no urgency that would justify a hasty proceeding," Cayetano said.

There are 12 House bills seeking to renew ABS-CBN's franchise, but all remain pending before the Committee on Legislative Franchises. Joint resolutions seeking to extend the Lopez-owned network's existing franchise until 2022 have also been filed in the House.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo in a press briefing on Wednesday said that instead of a resolution, Congress should once and for all pass a measure granting ABS-CBN another franchise, so President Rodrigo Duterte can sign it into law.

Despite Duterte's public pronouncements against the network, Malacañang maintains he does not have anything to do with the delay in the legislative action on its franchise.

Senate resolution

A proposal for a concurrent resolution has also been filed in the Senate on Wednesday seeking the issuance of a provisional permit for ABS-CBN. Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 6, filed by Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, seeks the concurrence of the House "to express the sense of the Congress that ABS-CBN Corporation should be allowed to operate under the terms of its existing franchise pending final determination of the renewal of its franchise by the 18th Congress."

Drilon cited Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra's statement that since Congress has the power to grant franchises, it also has the authority to determine the rights of an applicant, in this case, ABS-CBN.

Guevarra earlier told a Senate hearing that Congress, through a concurrent resolution, can authorize the NTC to grant ABS-CBN provisional authority, allowing it to continue operating even after its franchise expires in May. The NTC then said it would be easier for them to issue the temporary franchise if the order comes from Congress.

Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III, however, said a concurrent resolution should no longer be necessary since the NTC has in the past granted provisional permits without Congress resolutions.

A 1994 agreement between the House, the NTC, and the media group Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas provides a mechanism for media entities with expiring Congressional franchises. The memorandum of understanding states that the NTC "shall continue to issue and grant permits or authorizations to operate" for radio and TV stations for a two-year period as long as there is a pending bill seeking to renew its franchise.

However, former Chief Justice Reynato Puno said this could no longer be done, since a 2003 Supreme Court decision, which he himself penned, had ruled that there is a need for an existing license before a corporation can operate. This means the only way for ABS-CBN to keep operating is for Congress to finally renew its 25-year franchise; and a provisional permit from the NTC, even if allowed by Congress, would not be executory.

Drilon disagreed with Puno, saying Congress, like the Supreme Court, has the right to interpret the Constitution. "We should not be frozen into inaction by the decision of the Supreme Court," he said.

CNN Philippines' Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.