Employees of local broadcast giant ABS-CBN holding placards ask motorists to honk their cars during a protest in front of ABS-CBN building in Manila on February 14, 2020. Philippine government lawyers moved on February 10 to strip the nation's biggest media group of its operating franchise in what campaigners branded a fresh attack on press freedom under President Rodrigo Duterte.
AFP/Ted Aljibe
IBP: Better for Congress to decide on ABS-CBN franchise bills than to authorize provisional license
Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - February 27, 2020 - 5:53pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Integrated Bar of the Philippines said that it would be better if Congress passes bills on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal than for the legislative branch to authorize the National Telecommunications Commission to issue a provisional license to the network.

"If both Houses of Congress can anyway have a timely consensus, it may be better for them to decide whether or not to pass a franchise law in accordance with the Constitution," IBP president Egon Cayosa said in a statement Thursday.

This paints a better scenario than both chambers issuing respective resolutions authorizing the NTC to allow ABS-CBN to operate with an expired franchise, the national lawyers' group said.

ABS-CBN has two months left in its current legislative franchise, and bills calling for its resolution remain pending before the House of Representatives, from where franchise bills emanate.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier said that Congress, through a concurrent resolution, may authorize the NTC to issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN that will let them continue operating pending their application for renewal.

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Legislative Franchise sent a letter to NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba urging the agency to grant provisional authority to ABS-CBN until Congress decides on its renewal application.

Provisional authority can be questioned in court

But Cayosa said that the provisional authority can be subject to another legal challenge.

He said that the provisional authority can “theoretically [be] questioned by interested parties in another quo warranto case before the courts.”

He urged: “The earlier the issues are resolved, the better for the parties, our country and the rule of law.”

“We trust and we pray that the proper authorities do their sworn duties well and in a timely manner, ever mindful that their power comes from the law, public trust, and for the public interest,” Cayosa also said.

Guevarra’s ‘legal guidance’

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also noted that the provisional license to operate can be revoked anytime.

ABS-CBN’s current franchise may be in danger of revocation as Solicitor General Jose Calida has accused the network of violations before the Supreme Court.

During the Senate hearing into ABS-CBN’s franchise woes earlier this week, Cordoba faced the panel and said DOJ’s legal opinion on the provisional franchise of the network would take precedence over any complaint that may be filed by the Office of the Solicitor General.

"There is a department order before that the opinion of the secretary of justice would take precedence. This means that they can render a legal opinion, and not the Office of the Solicitor General,” Cordoba said.

But the Justice department declined the NTC’s request for legal opinion. It instead only offered legal guidance on the matter.

In the letter addressed to Cordoba, Guevarra pointed out that: “There is nothing in our existing laws which declares that the franchisee can continue to operate pending the renewal of its franchise; neither is there anything in these laws which prohibits the franchisee from operating until Congress acts on the bill for the renewal of the franchise”

Guevarra said that since Congress took cognizance of the franchise renewal bills, it also has “the implied power” to authorize ABS-CBN’s operation pending their final action.

The Justice chief said that there is “sufficient equitable basis to allow broadcast entities to continue operating while the bills for the renewal of their respective franchise remain pending with Congress.”

"However a more stable legal environment could be created if Congress, by a concurrent resolution, would authorize the NTC to issue a provisional authority to these broadcasting companies, under such terms and conditions as it may deem necessary until Congress’ final disposition of their franchise renewal bills,” he added.

ABS-CBN ABS-CBN FRANCHISE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE INTEGRATED BAR OF THE PHILIPPINES MENARDO GUEVARRA NATIONAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
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