Guevarra: Congress may direct NTC to give ABS-CBN provisional authority to operate

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Guevarra: Congress may direct NTC to give ABS-CBN provisional authority to operate
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra is one of the resource persons at the Senate inquiry into bills on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal and the network’s supposed violations held February 24, 2020.
The STAR / Geremy Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines — Congress may direct the National Telecommunications Commission to issue a provisional franchise to ABS-CBN, pending bills calling for its renewal, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.

"Congress, by a concurrent resolution, may authorize the [NTC] to issue a provisional authority subject to such terms and conditions as the NTC may deem fit to ABS-CBN and other entities similarly situated, authorizing them to continue operating subject to Congress’ eventual disposition of their renewal of the application," Guevarra told the Senate panel hearing bills on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal.

Guevarra is among the resource persons at the Senate Committee on Public Services inquiry into bills on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal and into the network's supposed violations.

The DOJ was due to issue a legal opinion on the matter later this week but Guevarra said in a chance interview with reporters that the department might not do that after all. He said the legal opinion the NTC is asking for is not the kind that the department usually gives.

Guevarra earlier said that the NTC asked for its legal opinion on whether “on whether or not ABS-CBN may continue operating after the lapse of the franchise period, pending action by the Congress on the franchise renewal bills.”

Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete told reporters that “it is possible” Guevarra’s statement before the Senate panel may echo the Justice department’s legal opinion.

Can the provisional authority to operate be withdrawn?

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon asked NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordona whether the NTC can withdraw the provisional authority that Congress may ask it to grant to ABS-CBN.

"At the very least, can ABS-CBN operate independently without the sword of Damocles threatening to withdraw the franchise at any time?" he said.

Cordoba replied: "The NTC, considering that there is no more franchise, since it has already lapsed, we can withdraw the provisional authority anytime but subject to conditions."

Drilon said that a joint congressional resolution may grant at least three years of provisional authority to operate so that lawmakers may deliberate on the network’s franchise and supposed violations.

"We subject [ourselves] to the wisdom of the legislative," Cordoba replied.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, for his part, asked if the NTC has withdrawn provisional authority in the past.

Cordoba answered: "Wala pa po your honor."

Joint resolution needed?

Cordoba said the regulator would be inclined to wait for congressional guidance on whether or not to issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN when its franchise expires.

He said that although other franchise applicants were allowed to continue operating after their franchises expired, these were either because of "guidance" from lawmakers or because the applicanits did not face opposition to renewal.

He pointed out that ABS-CBN's franchise is being questioned at the Supreme Court, with Solicitor General Jose Calida alleging the network violated terms of its franchuse.

Asked by Sen. Grace Poe, panel chair, if a request from the Senate, not a joint resolution as early suggested by Justice Secretary Guevarra, would be enough for the NTC to issue a provisional authority, Cordoba said: "Then we will have basis to do that."

Franchise up to May 4

The Justice secretary, in the same statement told the panel that the the network's franchise will lapse on May 4, 2020, and not March 30 as earlier reported and as believed by many.

Quoting from ABS-CBN’s franchise law, Guevarra noted that Republic Act 7966 took effect 15 days from its publication in at least two major newspapers.

The law was signed on March 30, but published on April 14, which means that the franchise will expire on May 4.

Guevarra told reporters later on that the department is not inclined to issue a legal opinion to NTC on whether ABS-CBN can operate past the expiration of the franchise partly because it would be for a hypothetical situation.

"Who knows kung talagang mag-eexpire 'yang franchise ng ABS-CBN without Congress having acted on it (Who knows if ABS-CBN's franchise will really expire without Congress having acted on it)," he said. 

"As I said, hanggang May 4 ang talagang expiration eh, May 4, it's not March 30. I explained that earlier. How do we know that in fact Congress will not be able to act on it before May 4?"

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