In this Feb. 15, 2020 photo, thousands of ABS-CBN employees gather at the ABS-CBN compound in Quezon City in support of the network's franchise renewal.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman
Calida: NTC cannot grant ABS-CBN provisional authority despite lawmakers' requests
(Philstar.com) - May 3, 2020 - 6:45pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 7:45 p.m.) — Requests from Congress do not give the National Telecommunications Commission the power to grant ABS-CBN Corp. a provisional authority to operate when its franchise expires on Monday and while it waits for congressional action on its renewal, Solicitor General Jose Calida said.

In a statement on Sunday, he also said that the NTC could face graft charges if they issue the provisional authority as lawmakers, including the Senate as a chamber and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano (Taguig), urged in March.

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

"These issuances cannot amend the current law requiring a congressional franchise for the operation of broadcasting networks. Not being separate laws themselves, they cannot amend or repeal prior laws," Calida said.

Calida has a pending petition at the Supreme Court questioning ABS-CBN's franchise, saying the company had violated provisions in the law. ABS-CBN has said it has followed the law and has paid its taxes, issues that had also been hurled against the network.

The network, which had also been accused of being biased against the government, has apologized, saying in February that: "We're sorry if we offended the president, that was not the intention of the network."

READ: 'Sorry for offending': ABS-CBN does not have own political agenda, CEO says

The government's top lawyer said that the exclusive power to grant franchises is with Congress. "Although this legislative power may be delegated to administrative agencies through a law, at present, there is no such law giving the NTC or any other agency the power to grant franchises to broadcasting entities," the Office of the Solicitor General said in a statement on Sunday. 

Citing GMA Network, Inc. v. National Telecommunications Commission, Calida said that the NTC can only issue a provisional authority once Congress has granted the franchise. He said provisional authorities can only be given "once a congressional franchise has been granted and an application for [Certificate of Public Convenience] is pending before the NTC for approval."

Congressional leaders claimed in March that there was no rush to hold hearings on ABS-CBN's franchise since it could continue to operate while bills to extend its franchise are pending in Congress.

READ: ABS-CBN may operate until 2022 — lawmaker

"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," Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said in February.

He said in March, however, that resolutions "cannot be construed as direct orders of the legislature that the NTC is legally compelled to obey." He said that a resolution cannot replace a franchise law.

RELATED: On World Press Freedom Day, groups wary of shrinking space for fundamental freedoms

"[W]hat good would it do the Filipino people if the country’s biggest media corporation, one that is relied upon by a great number of the people during this pandemic for news, entertainment and relief delivery, ceases operations tomorrow?" the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said Sunday evening.

"Solicitor General Jose Calida issued his warning today, May 3, World Press Freedom Day. Calida threatened ABS-CBN and the NTC amidst a vicious pandemic when it is quite obvious that the media could be partners in these difficult times, as they have done these past eight weeks. What timing!" the group also said.

ABS-CBN CORP. ABS-CBN FRANCHISE JOSE CALIDA OFFICE OF THE SOLICITOR GENERAL PRESS FREEDOM
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