In this Sept. 9, 2019 photo, Sen. Grace Poe leads the Senate Committee on Public Service hearing on the provincial bus ban.
Senate PRIB/Joseph Vidal
Lawmakers urge congressional assurance that ABS-CBN can operate after March
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - February 16, 2020 - 4:55pm

MANILA, Philippines — The assertion that broadcast giant ABS-CBN can continue operating after its franchise expires in March and while its renewal is prending in Congress would be better if put in writing, lawmakers said Sunday.

Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Services, on Sunday called on lawmakers to ensure that the broadcasting network can continue operations while deliberations on renewing the franchise are ongoing. She said ABS-CBN's around 11,000 workers face displacement if the network has to shut down because of the pending franchise renewal.

This, as Rep. Alfredo Garbin (Ako Bicol Party-List), a member of the committees on Legislative Franchises, and Labor and Employment also proposed "a Joint Concurrent Resolution expressing to the National Telecommunications Commission that the NTC can formally recognize precedent situations to maintain the status quo while the franchises are pending in Congress."

Both solons expressed support for the broadcast giant whom the Supreme Court gave until Friday to comment on the quo warranto petition filed against it by government lawyers. 

Rep. Tonypet Albano (Isabela), vice chair of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, said earlier in the week that "even if the ABS-CBN franchise expires on March 30, it doesn’t mean that ABS-CBN will close completely because the rule of thumb… is that while 18th Congress is still ongoing they can continue its services (pending renewal of application)."

On Monday, Solicitor General Jose Calida accused the network of “unlawfully exercising their legislative franchises under Republic Act No. 7966 and Republic Act No. 8332” by, among other allegations, operating the Kapamilya Box Office pay-per-view service.

READ: Calida says ABS-CBN's KBO service illegal, but network says it has permits

"This JCR would give clarity and substance to the emerging consensus that ABS-CBN can continue to operate while the franchise bills are pending in the 18th Congress based on precedents," Garbin reasoned in his statement. 

"This JCR is well within the power of Congress to grant."

According to the Senate website, "a joint resolution, like a bill, requires the approval of both houses and the signature of the president. It has the force and effect of a law if approved."

A concurrent resolution, meanwhile, "is used for matters affecting the operations of both houses and must be passed in the same form by both of them." Like simple resolutions, these do not have the force of law and are used to convey the "sense" of Congress. 

READ: ABS-CBN may operate until 2022 — lawmaker

'Hindi biro' 

Poe said Sunday that having Congress put down in writing or even just say outright that the network can continue operating until 2022 as some members of Congress have said would be helpful.

"Kahit sabihin pa nila na pwede naman 'yan i-extend hanggang 2022, maganda siguro kung in writing o kaya at least verbally sabihin ng Kongreso, ‘We commit to give ABS-CBN through the National Telecommunications Commission a temporary permit to operate’ kasi hindi naman 'yan nakasulat sa batas. 'Yan ay kortesiya lamang na ibinibigay ng Kongreso at NTC,” Poe said.

(Even if they say that that can be extended up to 2022, it might be better to put it in writing or at least for Congress to say: "We commit to give ABS-CBN through the National Telecommunications Commission a temporary permit to op

“Hindi biro kung matigil ang operasyon dahil alam naman natin 11,000 trabaho ang apektado rito."

The pending franchise bills have yet to hurdle the committee level at the House of Representatives since 2019, despite the franchise being set to expire on March 30.

Towards the end of 2019, both House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano (Taguig) and Rep. Franz Alvarez (Palawan), who chairs the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, disclosed that the House no longer intended to tackle the matter that year.

"Walang perpekto. Ako ang isip ko diyan ay bukas dahil maraming naga-apply ng prangkisa, wala namang perpekto," Poe, who has filed a resolution for hearings into ABS-CBN's alleged franchise violations, also said.

(There is no perfect organization. I'm keeping an open mind on this because there are many who apply for franchises and none of them is perfect) 

"Walang duda na may serbisyong ibinibigay ang network ng ABS-CBN pero ito timbangin natin—ang serbisyo ba na ibinibigay ng ABS-CBN ay akma o kayang isantabi ang mga kakulangan nito."

(There is no doubt that ABS-CBN provides a service but we must weigh whether the service that ABS-CBN provides outweighs the alleged shortcomings)

Solicitor General Jose Calida's move to file a quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN has been criticized by media groups, academic institutions, lawmakers and labor unions who say hat the petition was a move against press freedom and freedom of expression.

"The JCR would also be the assurance of Congress to the Filipino people that there will be no vacuum in freedom of expression, creativity, and press freedom because of the expiration of the ABS-CBN franchises."

ABS-CBN OFFICE OF THE SOLICITOR GENERAL SEN. GRACE POE
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