By Jeffrey Damicog
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) that it can issue a provisional license to ABS-CBN to allow the network to operate after its legislative franchise has expired and the renewal remains pending.
In a letter addressed to NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba dated Feb. 26, Guevarra said “there is sufficient equitable basis to allow broadcast entities to continue operating while the bulls for the renewal of their respective franchise remain pending with Congress.”
“However, a more stable legal environment could be created if Congress, by a concurrent resolution, would authorize the NTC to issue a provisional authority to these broadcasting companies, under such terms and conditions as it may deem necessary, until Congress’ final disposition of their franchise renewal bills,” read the letter.
Since Congress has the sole authority to issue a legislative franchise, Guevarra explained “such plenary power of Congress also includes the auxiliary power to define and preserve the rights of the franchise applicant pending final determination on the renewal of the franchise.”
Guevarra said Congress has done this with regard to other similarly situated companies in the past, including the Philippine Telegraph and Telephone Corporation, Smart Communications, Inc., and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Inc., “all of whom were allowed to operate despite expired franchises as long as the applications for the renewal of these franchises had been lodged with Congress before the lapse of their respective term.”
Meanwhile, House committee on legislative franchises chair and Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez on Wednesday wrote to the NTC ask it to grant a provisional authority to the broadcast company and its subsidiaries so they can continue operating beyond May 4, the expiration of the media network’s legislative franchise.
Also on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon filed a concurrent resolution seeking to allow ABS-CBN to operate while the network’s legislative franchise renewal remains pending.
Guevarra sent the letter in response to Cordoba’s Feb. 12 request for a Department of Justice (DOJ) opinion on the matter concerning the media giant’s pending renewal of its legislative franchise.
However, instead of a legal opinion, Guevarra sent the letter as a possible guidance for the NTC.
“We regret that a number of circumstances constrain us to refrain from rendering a formal legal opinion on this matter,” Guevarra apologized to Cordova.
Guevarra explained DOJ’s legal opinion concerning ABS-CBN “does not have any binding authority” and that the matter is “better addressed to Congress itself in the exercise of a power constitutionally reserved to it.”
“Lastly, the main issue involved in this request for opinion is premised on the assumption that Congress would not be able to act on the bills to renew the Franchise before it expires.
“However, there are still several weeks before the expiration of the franchise, and Congress may still be able to timely act on the renewal of the franchise, thus making our opinion unnecessary,” he added.