ABS-CBN off air, franchise pending—DOJ

The Justice department said Friday there was not enough basis to allow ABS-CBN to continue operating while the bills for the renewal of its franchise were pending in Congress.

In a six-page letter to National Telecommunications Commission, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said it would be better if Congress authorized the NTC to issue a provisional authority.

In related developments:

• A retired Supreme Court justice said Thursday that, without a franchise, ABS-CBN would have to cease operations after May 4, contrary to the informal opinion of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra that a provisional permit would be enough for the media giant continue operating.

“An expired franchise can’t be extended by a mere Joint Resolution by both houses. There should be a law granting a new franchise,” retired justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez told Rappler in a message on Thursday.

• Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Thursday pooh-poohed the joint resolutions filed by his colleagues backing the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise.

Cayetano said the resolutions filed by Representatives Raul del Mar and Rufus Rodriguez in the House would create more issues and problems than provide a solution.

• The Palace on Thursday said there was no need for ABS-CBN to coordinate with the office of President Rodrigo Duterte in relation to the P2.6 million that would be donated by the network to a charitable institution, an amount from the Chief Executive’s unaired political ads that he refused to accept.

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

Duterte had already given ABS-CBN a free hand to choose the recipient of the P2.6 million, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

READ: Duterte: ABS-CBN apology accepted

“There is no need for guidance. The President gave them blanket authority. Just donate it to your favorite charitable organization,” Panelo told reporters.

• The labor group Defend Jobs Philippines said Thursday the Senate and House resolutions on ABS-CBN’s franchise extension were good, but passing a new legislative franchise law would be best for Kapamilya workers.

According to Guevarra, it would be within the bounds of the basic principle of “fairness and justice” if Congress continued with its practice and allow broadcast entities to continue with their operations even after their franchises had expired, for as long as their applications for the renewal of their franchises had been filed before Congress.

However, Guevarra clarified that the letter to the NTC was a mere “guidance” to the NTC in dealing with the matter of ABS-CBN’s franchise. 

Guevarra said if Congress allowed the media network to operate after its franchise lapsed, that would not be the first time it would do so.

This practice of Congress had benefited other entities such as the Philippine Telegraph and Telephone Corp., Smart Communications Inc. and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

“This practice of Congress is not merely a matter of procedure as it significantly affects substantial rights. For such reason, it is imperative that the same treatment be extended to all entities seeking the renewal of their franchises that are about to expire. Otherwise, it run afoul of the basic principles of fairness and justice,” Guevarra said.

“It would likewise undermine the trust and the reasonable expectation of the citizens that the state shall govern impartially and will not draw distinction that are irrelevant to a legitimate objective.”

Guevarra also said there was a gap in the law. The existing laws on franchises do not provide for the status of the operations of a radio and/or television franchise when Congress has not finally acted on a pending bill for its renewal.

“There is nothing in our existing laws that declare that the franchisee can continue to operate pending the renewal of its franchise; neither is there anything in these laws which prohibit the franchisee from operating until Congress acts on the bill for the renewal of the franchise.

“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.”

The House of Representatives’ Committee on Legislative Franchise has formally asked the NTC to issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN to operate from May 4 until Congress has made a decision on its application. With Rappler, Maricel V. Cruz, MJ Blancaflor and Willie Casas

READ: Drilon rushes to extend ABS franchise

READ: ’Press freedom non-issue in ABS’

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

Topics: Department of Justice , ABS-CBN , franchise , National Telecommunications Commission , Menardo Guevarra
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