House panel tells NTC: Let ABS-CBN operate
In a letter signed by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and committee on legislative franchises chair Rep. Franz Alvarez, the House formally asked the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to issue a provisional authority to the network to operate “from May 4, 2020 until such time that the Congress has made a decision on its application.”
STAR/ File

House panel tells NTC: Let ABS-CBN operate

Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - February 27, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives yesterday moved to allow broadcast giant ABS-CBN to continue operating even after expiration of its franchise in May. 

In a letter signed by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and committee on legislative franchises chair Rep. Franz Alvarez, the House formally asked the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to issue a provisional authority to the network to operate “from May 4, 2020 until such time that the Congress has made a decision on its application.”

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon filed a concurrent resolution seeking to authorize the NTC to grant the network a provisional permit to operate until the 18th Congress finally acts on the renewal of its franchise, citing that both the Senate and the House need more time to deliberate on the matter.

The House leaders informed the NTC that its panel in charge of franchises has started process of deliberation on ABS-CBN’s application for franchise renewal last Monday, Feb. 24, by instructing all interested parties to submit their position papers for or against ABS-CBN’s application within 60 days.

They stressed that the House, which has the exclusive original jurisdiction and authority to act on franchise applications, would not be able to resolve ABS-CBN’s franchise bills with only six session days remaining before the expiration of the 25-year franchise.

“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. We want to be sure that this matter is given the importance it deserves,” Cayetano explained in a statement.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, one of the proponents of renewal of the network’s franchise, also filed yesterday House Joint Resolution No. 29 seeking extension of the franchise until Congress is able to resolve the matter and decide on 11 bills seeking to renew the network’s 25-year franchise.

But unlike the first resolution filed by Cebu Rep. Raul del Mar last Feb.18, which sought extension of franchise to June 2022 or until the end of the 18th Congress, the measure filed by Rodriguez sought extension to May 2021 only.

The Speaker reiterated that Congress will prioritize measures – rehabilitation of Batangas, the prevention of the spread of the COVID-19 virus, creation of the departments of OFWs and disaster resilience, as well as several revenue measures being pushed by the Duterte administration that will help bring in millions of new jobs – that they deem as more urgent than the franchise issue.

In the same letter, the House leaders likewise enjoined the NTC to grant a separate provisional authority to ABS-CBN’s subsidiaries and affiliates – ABS-CBN Convergence Inc., Sky Cable Corp. and Amcara Broadcasting Network Inc. – that likewise have pending franchise applications with Congress.

They also urged the NTC to include in the respective provisional authorities “terms and conditions you deem appropriate to protect public interest consistent with applicable laws, rules and regulations.”

The House also confirmed that the ABS-CBN franchise will expire on May 4, not on March 30 as earlier reported, citing a provision in the expiring franchise that took effect 15 days from the date of its publication, which was April 19,1995.

The letter was sent to the office of NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba.

Regarding the provisional authority which was granted, it was retired chief justice Reynato Puno who had clarified yesterday that the broadcast giant may be allowed, when authorized by the House, to continue operations even after expiration of its franchise in May pending its application for renewal of legislative franchise.

A former member of President Duterte’s consultative committee, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino agreed with Puno and said in a Facebook post, “Since franchise is the very requisite legislative grant of authority to operate, then absence of a franchise (owing to denial of application, or expiry of franchise or withdrawal thereof) can only mean that there is no authority to operate.”

SC resets deliberations

The Supreme Court (SC) yesterday reset deliberations on the ABS-CBN franchise issue to March 10, to give the justices time to read through all the documents filed by the parties on the quo warranto petition, motion for the Court to issue a gag order and temporary restraining order (TRO).

The quo warranto petition and gag order motion were filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), while the TRO was filed by the respondents ABS-CBN Corp. and ABS-CBN Convergence Inc.

“The case will be taken up again by the en banc on March 10, 2020. This is to give the justices time to go over the pleadings submitted by the parties, including the comments recently filed by the respondents,” said SC spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka. 

The OSG filed the quo warranto petition asking for the cancellation of the ABS-CBN franchise last Feb. 10 because it reportedly wanted to end the “highly abusive practices of ABS-CBN benefitting a greedy few at the expense of its millions of loyal subscribers.” 

The OSG added the broadcast giant “has been broadcasting for a fee,” which was “an abuse (of) the privilege granted by the State when it launched and operated a pay-per-view channel in ABS-CBN TV Plus – the KBO (Kapamilya Box Office) Channel – without prior approval or permit from the National Telecommunications Commission.”

With the KBO Channel, subscribers of ABS-CBN TV Plus, a digital device by the network that transmits their content straight to televisions, can pay a certain fee to watch select movies weekly. 

The OSG also said that ABS-CBN has “issued Philippine Deposit Receipts (PDR) through ABS-CBN Holdings Corp. to foreigners,” which violates Article 16, Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution that limits ownership of mass media to Filipinos.

But in its 58-page Comment Ad Cautelam, ABS-CBN Corp. and ABS-CBN Convergence Inc. denied the OSG’s allegations and asked the SC to deny the application of the OSG with a TRO or writ of preliminary injunction.

ABS-CBN cited both jurisdictional and procedure grounds as basis in asking the SC to dismiss the OSG petition. 

‘A change of heart’

A former senatorial candidate of the opposition slate Otso Diretso yesterday expressed confidence President Duterte would not block the renewal of franchise of ABS-CBN.

“I am sure he (Duterte) would sacrifice and set aside his own personal interests and reason if only to protect the rights and interests of his fellowmen,” veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said in a statement.

At a Senate committee hearing on the TV network’s franchise on Monday, Sen. Christopher Go, who served as special assistant to the President, said he would “appeal” to Duterte for the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN considering that more than 11,000 personnel and talents will be affected by its closure.  

Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, another close ally of the President, said he is “one step closer to supporting ABS-CBN.” 

Several other Duterte allies, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives, also manifested their support for ABS-CBN and its employees and their families. – With Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla, Evelyn Macairan, Robertzon Ramirez, Helen Flores

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