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'ABS can't operate sans franchise'

Former Chief Justice Renato Puno said Tuesday ABS-CBN Corporation cannot operate once its franchise expires in May―and even with a temporary permit granted by Congress.

Puno’s view contradicts that of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra who earlier said Congress could allow or authorize the National Telecommunications Commission to grant a provisional authority to the broadcast network to operate pending the renewal of its franchise.

Puno cited a 2003 decision of the Supreme Court involving the case of Associated Communications and Wireless Services vs NTC that expressly required the need for a license before a corporation could operate.

He also cited Republic Act 7925 or the Public Telecommunications Policy Act which, among other things, says no person may start or conduct  the business of being a telecommunications entity without first securing a franchise to operate.

“They cannot operate because of that decision by the Supreme Court. We were unanimous in holding that there is a need for a franchise before the NTC can grant a provisional permit,’’ Puno said in an interview with CNN Philippines.

Recalling that he wrote the decision that was concurred in by the rest of the magistrates, Puno said that without a franchise, a network had no choice but to stop operations.

“They cannot operate because of that decision and by the laws we have, particularly RA 7925, Puno said.

He says the NTC does not have the power to grant a temporary license “without the franchise given by Congress.”

“This is also in RA 7925, which defines the powers of the NTC, Puno said.

But a 1994 Memorandum of Understanding between the House of Representatives, the NTC and the Kapisanan ng  mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas allowed the NTC to issue a temporary permit to operate to broadcast networks while their application for franchise renewal was pending.

Sought for comment, Guevarra said he was aware of the 1994 MOU but it would still depend on the House if that would be considered sufficient.

“But in my opinion, it may have to be refreshed or replaced by a formal resolution of the House, Guevarra said.

He said his office will reply to the NTC’s request for a legal opinion today, Wednesday, “but will issue guidance instead of a formal legal opinion.”

Puno, though, said even without Congress’ move, ABS-CBN should still be allowed to operate, given that some companies with expired licenses were able to do so in the past.

In related developments:

• Senate Minority Leader Frankin Drilon said he would file a concurrent resolution in the Senate to allow ABS-CBN to operate until the end of the 18th Congress in 2022.

READ: Drilon rushes to extend ABS franchise

He said the concurrent resolution was different from Senate Joint Resolution resolution 1I, which he also filed to extend the network’s franchise until Dec. 31, 2022.  

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said if Congress could pass anything jointly, then it would be better if Congress passed a law that was also a joint effort.

Senator Joel Villanueva said he would support  Drilon’s resolution for the sake of the 11,071 workers of the television network. 

• Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Tuesday maintained that the House of Representatives would weigh the merits of the renewal of the franchise of broadcast network ABS-CBN in “a sober discussion through a committee hearing.”

Cayetano also vowed that the hearing on pending bills calling for the renewal of the franchise to operate of ABS-CBN Corporation would be organized and that the issues to be raised would be made clear even before the hearing began.

This developed as Cebu Rep. Raul Del Mar filed House Joint Resolution 28 extending the franchise of ABS-CBN until the end of the 18th  Congress in June 2022. The joint resolution was filed on Feb. 18.

• The labor group Defend Jobs Philippines on Tuesday called on Congress to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN.

“In behalf  of the organizations, unions and workers associations under the Office of the Labor Representative of the Quezon City Development Council, we strongly support the appeal of millions of Filipino people to renew the ABS-CBN franchise, not just simply as our collective stand for genuine press freedom, but also for the benefit of its 11,000-strong Kapamilya workforce, group president Benjamin Cordero said in a statement.

Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition on Feb. 10 before the high court saying they had uncovered many abuses and violations of ABS-CBN Corp. and ABS-CBN Convergence of their legislative franchise.

Calida also said the network violated the constitutional provision against foreign ownership of media entities when it issued Philippine Depository Receipts to foreigners.

The network in an official statement denied Calida’s claim and said it had been complying with the provision of its franchise. With Macon Ramos-Araneta, Maricel V. Cruz and Willie Casas

READ: ABS-CBN says sorry to Duterte, pays ad refund

READ: Duterte: No time to watch ABS-CBN probe

Topics: Renato Puno , ABS-CBN Corporation , Supreme Court , Menardo Guevarra , Congress
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