DOJ: ABS-CBN can operate pending franchise renewal

May 25, 2020

JUSTICE Secretary Menardo Guevarra yesterday reiterated that television giant ABS-CBN Corp. can operate while bills for renewal of its franchise remain pending in Congress.

"The DOJ (Department of Justice) position has been consistently for NTC (the National Telecommunications Commission) to ALLOW ABS-CBN or any company similarly situated to continue operating while the renewal of its franchise is pending with Congress, with or without a formal provisional authority from the NTC. It is the fair, equitable, and non-discriminatory solution to a situation which is not specifically covered by any existing law or jurisprudence," Guevarra said in a statement.

Also, Guevarra maintained that President Duterte is clothed with exclusive power to reverse the cease-and-desist order issued by the NTC because it's an agency under the Office of the President.

" The President has the power to modify, amend, recall or revoke any order or any decision rendered by his subordinates in the executive department. As Chief Executive, he has total control of the Executive Department," Guevarra said.

Guevarra, however, begged not to comment on the Supreme Court case, saying the matter will be handled by the Office of the Solicitor General as statutory counsel of NTC.

The House committee on legislative franchises is set to hear Tuesday the bills seeking renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise, after dropping its earlier move to issue a provisional franchise valid until Oct. 31 due to legal questions.

A total of 15 bills had been filed in the House of Representatives and three in the Senate proposing to grant ABS-CBN another 25 years to operate. Despite inquiries by both chambers early this year, none of the bills were passed Congress.

In an order dated May 5, the NTC directed ABS-CBN to stop operating its television and radio broadcasting stations nationwide “absent a valid Congressional Franchise required by law.”

NTC cited Republic Act No. 3846 or the Radio Control Law which states that “no person, firm, company, association, or corporation shall construct, install, establish, or operate a radio transmitting station, or radio receiving station used for commercial purposes, or a radio broadcasting station, without having first obtained a franchise therefor from the Congress of the Philippines.”

ABS-CBN questioned before the high court the legality of the NTC closure order.

In its 46-page petition for certiorari and prohibition, ABS-CBN said NTC gravely abused its discretion when it issued the order, instead of deferring to Congress where bills for the renewal of its legislative franchise have been filed since 2016.

Furthermore, ABS-CBN said the NTC violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution as it allowed in the past similarly situated broadcasting companies to continue to operate by issuing provisional authority.