50-year cap only applies to single franchise grant, DOJ explains

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 17) - The Department of Justice (DOJ) clarified that Congress can grant a fresh single operating franchise to broadcast networks even though they have been operating for more than 50 years.

“The Congress can issue multiple franchises that collectively can exceed 50 years, as long as the individual franchises do not exceed 50 years,” said Justice Asst. Secretary Nicholas Ty during the joint House hearing of the Committee on Legislative Franchises and the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability on ABS-CBN's bid for a 25-year-franchise.

Ty made the clarification in response to an issue raised by critics that the media giant has been existing in the industry for more than 70 years and that its franchise should not be renewed.

Section 11 of Article XII of the 1987 Constitution states that “no franchise, certificate, or any other form of authorization for the operation of a public utility shall be granted...for a longer period than fifty years.”

“The 50-year limitation under the Constitution pertains to the franchise itself and not to the grantee,” Ty explained.

READ: ABS-CBN goes off air following NTC order

He added that it is up to Congress to decide how long a franchise will last provided that it will only be up to 50 years maximum.

“And for the renewal of franchise, Congress has the discretion to fix the term of that franchise as long as that term will not exceed the 50-year limitation,” added Ty.

During the inquiry, ABS-CBN counsel Atty. Mario Bautista also flagged the interpretation of the constitutional provision, citing that public utilities like Meralco and PLDT have both been operating way longer than 50 years.

He also noted that other networks like GMA, IBC, and ABC have been in the industry for a long time.

“Kapag ang finding po ng Kongreso ay 50 years lang dapat in operation ang isang public utility, lahat po ng mga korporasyon na binanggit ko ay violative of the Constitution ang kanilang mga prankisa,” Bautista argued.

[Translation: If the finding of the Congress is that a public utility should only operate for 50 years, this would mean that all the franchises of the corporations I mentioned are violative of the Constitution.]