POSTSCRIPT / February 25, 2020 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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ABS-CBN franchise expires May 4 – DoJ

IT TURNS out that the 25-year-franchise of broadcast firm ABS-CBN is still good until May 4 this year, not earlier on March 30 as is widely believed.

This was disclosed yesterday by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who said that the National Telecommunications Commission can even extend provisionally until 2022 the network’s operations if the Congress would authorize it while deliberating on the franchise application.

Guevarra suggested that the Congress authorize the NTC to issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN and other entities similarly situated to continue operating until the Congress is able to dispose of their franchise renewal applications.

A joint congressional resolution, he said, would provide a legal basis for continued operations that previously were only based on informal letters or memoranda of understanding between authorities and the companies.

Guevarra told reporters the justice department was declining the NTC’s request for a legal opinion on the granting of a provisional authority to a media firm to operate while its franchise application is being processed. He explained that a private company is involved.

On the new May 4 expiry date, Guevarra testified in yesterday’s Senate committee hearing on the franchise applications of ABS-CBN and six other broadcast companies:

“Based on the records in our possession, the following facts are undisputed: In the case of ABS-CBN, its franchise covered by Rep. Act No. 7966 enacted on March 30, 1995, provides for a term of 25 years from the effectivity of the franchise.

“Section 15 of the said Act provides that the franchise becomes effective 15 days from date of publication in at least two newspapers of general circulation. The franchise was published on April 19, 1995. For that reason, the franchise will expire on May 4, 2020.”

This is different from the widely held belief that the franchise expires on March 30, the day 25 years ago that RA 7966 was enacted.

Many forces are at work for and against the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, but the reality is that the ultimate decision rests on President Duterte, who appears to bear ill-feelings against the Lopez-controlled media outfit.

Senator-cum-presidential-aide Bong Go confirmed it: “Hindi mababaw ang reklamo ng Pangulo laban sa ABS-CBN…. Kung masama ka sa Pangulo, mas masama siya sa’yo. Kung mabait ka, mas mabait siya sa’yo.

We think that Duterte only has to say the word and ABS-CBN’s supposed sins shall be healed, and his supermajority in the Congress will lose no time giving it a new lease on life.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo says that Duterte has nothing to do with the granting of the franchise, except that if approved by the Congress the franchise will go up to the President for validation or veto, or allowed to lapse into law if unacted upon.

Nobody believes this hands-off claim or lack of interest of Malacañang – not after on many occasions Duterte himself said and showed by his body language that the Lopez network will not get a fresh franchise.

• Granting of franchise a lucrative ‘sideline’

THE GRANTING of franchises is known as one of the many lucrative “sidelines” of legislators, if you know what we mean, which is one of the reasons why many committee members are so jealous of their turf.

The holding of public hearings alone — in preparation for making a committee report and the matter’s being submitted to the plenary for final action – sometimes triggers a Great Debate between the two chambers.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and other House stalwarts were agitated when the Senate committee on public services chaired by Sen. Grace Poe scheduled public hearings starting yesterday, beating the House to the draw.

The congressmen complained that the granting of franchises is one of the processes, like the passing of revenue measures, that properly start in the House and that the Senate should just wait for it to complete its preliminary action.

But with the House’s following its own priorities, we think it was all right for the Senate committee to start preliminary studies – short of submitting a final report – on a matter that is sure to come up to it for action. That is done, for instance, in the case of the national budget.

The House committee on legislative franchises chaired by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez does not seem to be in a hurry. He said the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise may be tackled between May and August – while the clock is ticking towards its March 30 (now May 4) expiry.

He must have taken his cue from Speaker Cayetano who has said that the issue may be taken up in May or after President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address. He said he would rather tackle the 11 franchises measures before the chamber continuously than intermittently.

In opening the Senate hearing yesterday, Poe said: “Without encroaching on the quo warranto petition filed in the Supreme Court and the separate proceedings in the House, this hearing will seek to discuss two Senate resolutions.”

She was referring to her resolution to look into ABS-CBN’s complying with the terms of its franchise and another resolution of Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon to extend the franchise until 2022 to give the Congress time to review the application for renewal.

Poe said that while there have been efforts to block the hearing, the Senate is firm on asserting its oversight functions: “We need to know the truth and we need the public to hear it.”

In the Supreme Court, meanwhile, there is a parallel move by the administration to cancel ABS-CBN’s franchise even before its expiry.

Solicitor General Jose Calida has filed before the tribunal a quo warranto petition seeking the cancellation of the ABS-CBN franchise because of its alleged violation of its terms and conditions.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 25, 2020)

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