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Drilon: ABS-CBN can continue operating under provisional authority from NTC

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By Hannah Torregoza

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Thursday reiterated his belief that Congress has the jurisdiction to resolve the issue on the renewal of franchise of ABS-CBN Corporation, which he said can continue operating through a provisional authority while the process of renewal is still pending in the House of Representatives.

Sen. Franklin Drilon (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Sen. Franklin Drilon
(Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Drilon, a former justice secretary, said that while he respects former Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s opinion on the matter, he said the interpretation of the Constitution “is not the exclusive monopoly of the Supreme Court.”

“Both Congress and the Executive branch, represented by the DOJ secretary (Menardo Guevarra), are of the common view that the NTC can issue a provisional authority pending the processing by the Congress of the renewal of the franchise,” Drilon said, referring to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

The minority leader said that while the former SC chief pointed to past SC decisions, ABS-CBN’s case is different because there is a pending application being debated upon actively by both Houses of Congress.

“The SC decision is different on its factual background, because in that case the applicant no longer had a franchise and there was no more franchise pending in Congress. And the SC said, yes, you need a franchise and the NTC does not possess that authority.

“I emphasize that in the case of ABS-CBN, it is a different situation. There is a pending application being debated upon actively. Both houses of Congress–Speaker (Alan) Cayetano, Senate President (Vicente) Sotto, and Senator (Grace) Poe, chairman of the committee on public services, all said that a franchise continues to be valid while we are deliberating on the renewal,” he said.

“And Justice Secretary Guevarra concurred with that view,” Drilon pointed out.

“Here you have two branches of government, who are co-equal with the SC saying, yes we can do it. Unless otherwise, it is stopped by the SC, it is our view and it must be given due consideration that ABS-CBN can continue broadcasting as long as the Congress would continue to debate on the franchise,” he emphasized.

“We respect the view of the former chief justice. But we disagree and we have our own view.”

Puno had earlier said that a broadcast station is required to have a congressional franchise and that the NTC cannot issue a provisional permit without the license.

Puno cited the Feb. 17, 2003 SC decision in the case of Associated Communications & Wireless Services-United Broadcasting Networks vs. NTC, which he penned before he was appointed chief justice in 2006.

Drilon, however, pointed out that it is not at every instance that a franchise is necessary, citing that bus companies get their franchises, not from Congress but from the Land Transportation Franchise and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), which is the supervising agency on transportation.

In the same manner, Drilon said the NTC is the supervising agency on telecommunications.

“The Congress and the Executive, through the DOJ, whose opinion is binding on the Executive, have the same view that ABS-CBN can continue to operate until this Congress expires. That is precisely what we are doing now,” he said.

“We only have six session days before we adjourn. On May 4, everybody will be on pins and needles whether or not ABS-CBN can continue to operate,” he added.

The minority chief also said it is not unusual for the Senate and the DOJ to have a difference in legal opinion, as a law can always be subject to different interpretations.

He said there are decisions in the SC saying that the opinion of the technical agencies should be given due consideration.

“The opinion of Congress, in this case, which grants the franchise, should also be given due consideration. Remember, we are not prohibited from interpreting our own powers. In fact, we are not prohibited from interpreting the Constitution and the laws and that happens every day. Until the SC says otherwise, that stands,” Drilon said.

Drilon earlier filed a joint resolution seeking to extend the franchise of ABS-CBN up to the end of 2022, and another concurrent resolution that expresses the sense of Congress that ABS-CBN can continue to operate through the issuance of a provisional authority by the NTC.

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