Duterte won't interfere with NTC call on ABS-CBN provisional authority – Roque

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 4) — President Rodrigo Duterte will not interfere with the decision of the National Telecommunications Commission should it allow media giant ABS-CBN Corporation to stay on air once its legislative franchise expires on end of May 4, his spokesman said on Monday.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Monday said Duterte is fully aware that Solicitor General Jose Calida warned NTC commissioners that they risk being slapped with graft charges if they issue a provisional permit to the media giant for it to continue operating pending the renewal of its franchise.

"Ang SolGen po ay isang alter ego ng Presidente. At sumulat na nga po siya sa NTC," he said in a media briefing.

[Translation: The Solicitor General is the President's alter ego. Calida wrote to the NTC.]

The government’s top lawyer — whose office also serves as the NTC’s legal counsel — issued the warning on May 3, the eve of the expiry of the legislative franchise of ABS-CBN Corporation. He said there is no law delegating Congress’ power to grant legislative franchises to the regulatory body.

Roque said that the President knows that the NTC is an independent quasi-judicial body and no threat should sway its decision.

"Hindi naman pupwedeng maimpluwensiyahan ng ating Presidente ang NTC dahil sa batas, desisyon niya iyan. Desisyon ng komisyon iyan at hindi pwedeng pangunahan ng Presidente ang NTC pagdating sa isyung ito," he said.

[Translation: The President cannot influence the NTC because under the law, the decision is solely the NTC's. The President cannot interfere with the NTC.]

Duterte's spokesperson said the government will adhere to the decision of the commission should it issue a temporary permit to operate to ABS-CBN.

"Kung ano man ang desisyon ng NTC, ipapatupad din po iyan ng buong gobyerno," he said.

[Translation: Whatever the decision of the NTC may be, we will follow it.]

All eyes are on NTC hours before the possible closure of the media company. The commission, during the House Committee on Legislative Franchises’ first and only hearing on ABS-CBN’s franchise in March, said it has agreed to issue the network a provisional authority to operate pending its franchise renewal.

It said this was based on the advice of the Department of Justice to let ABS-CBN operate based on “equity," which Calida rejected in his statement.

However, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Monday stood by his earlier statement that broadcast entities may continue operating while the bills for the renewal of their franchise remain pending with Congress.

He refuted Calida's statement, saying there is no law that governs the rights and obligations of an entity which has already been granted a legislative franchise and has fully operated for several years. When there is a gap in the law, what comes in to fill the gap is the the equity principle by which substantial justice may be attained in cases where the customary forms of ordinary law are inadequate, Guevarra earlier explained.

Numerous bills seeking to grant ABS-CBN Corporation a fresh 25-year franchise remain pending in Congress.

Media outlets are required to secure legislative franchises. Such bills must first be approved by the House of Representatives before they are acted upon by the Senate.

Duterte has been publicly ranting against ABS-CBN since assuming office in 2016, saying that the network refused to carry his campaign commercials even if they have been already paid for.

In 2018, Duterte said he will block the renewal of the network's franchise. Last year, he told the Lopez family to just sell the company to a new owner to boost its chances of staying in business.

However, the President accepted the apology offered by ABS-CBN President Carlo Katigbak during a Senate hearing for airing an anti-Duterte ad during the 2016 campaign which was paid for by the opposition.

ABS-CBN is also facing a separate legal battle at the Supreme Court after Calida asked the high court to nullify the network's existing franchise, citing grave violations of the terms set by Congress back in 1995.