House to ABS-CBN: Franchise grant a privilege not a right

January 02, 2020

THE House leadership has reminded giant media network ABS-CBN Corporation that the renewal of its congressional franchise to continue its operations is a privilege, and not a right, under the law.

“But we should all be reminded that under the law, the grant of a franchise is not a right, but a privilege,” Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, who chairs the House committee on legislative franchises, stressed.  

At the same time, Alvarez assured ABS-CBN that it would be fair and objective in reviewing its application for the renewal of its franchise.

Alvarez gave this assurance as he made it clear that his panel will thoroughly study and hear all sides regarding ABS-CBN’s application for its franchise renewal.

“The advice of Speaker Alan (Peter Cayetano) to us was to make sure that we would be always fair and impartial in reviewing the application of ABS-CBN, or the application of any other public utility,  for that matter. At the same time it is Congress’ duty to accept complaints and hear issue brought up in any contain or objection,” said Alvarez.

“This is why we have to hear all sides, and find out if ABS-CBN violated the provisions of its franchise,” Alvarez added.

ABS-CBN’s franchise  to operate is set to expire in March 2020.

Under Republic Act (RA) No. 3846, radio and television broadcast stations are required to seek a franchise from Congress before being allowed to operate.

Alvarez pointed out that since the issue at hand is the grant of a franchise to ABS-CBN, which is a privilege, the constitutional right to press freedom is a separate concern that does not apply in this case.

“The issue involves the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN. There is no attempt to muzzle or control the media here so do not try to make this a press freedom issue when it is not,” said Alvarez.

“Does the President and many others who have made statements against ABS- CBN’s election coverage and election ad placement system, have a legitimate grievance against ABS-CBN? Did ABS-CBN violate the provisions of its franchise? Can ABS-CBN credibly defend its privilege of being granted a renewal of its franchise? These are just some of the questions that our  committee will seek to answer when we conduct hearings on the matter once Congress resumes session three weeks from now,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez noted that the Supreme Court (SC) in the case of Radio Communications Philippines Inc. versus National Telecommunications Commission has already stated that the grant of a franchise is “merely a privilege emanating from the sovereign power of the state and owing its existence to a grant, is subject to regulation by the state itself by virtue of its police power through its administrative agencies.”

In a related development, independent Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the alleged blatant curtailment of press freedom by President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte for repeatedly threatening to block the renewal of ABS-CBN Corporation’s franchise is ominously reminiscent of the unceremonious closure nationwide of 392 media outlets in 1972 at the outset of Martial Law, including ABS-CBN’s predecessor, ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation.

In a House Resolution to be filed on January 6, 2020, Lagman will urge the House committee on legislative franchises to report out without further delay for plenary action a consolidation of nine (9) pending bills proposing the renewal of the media giant’s franchise.

“The President must institute with the proper judicial or administrative forum his personal grievances against ABS-CBN, instead of imposing an extrajudicial killing of the freedom of the press,” said Lagman.

“Any deliberate and arbitrary denial of the extension of ABS-CBN’s franchise will render jobless 10,955 regular and non-regular employees as well as talent and project-based workers, and freeze P84.6 billion assets and investments. Selling ABS-CBN to an apparent Duterte crony is not an option,” Lagman pointed out.

“The freedom of the press is enshrined in the Bill of Rights and franchises as private bills exclusively emanate from the House of Representatives,” Lagman said.

“The unwarranted non-extension of ABS-CBN’s franchise is also a violation of due process and the equal protection clause guaranteed by the Constitution,” Lagman added.

“The President must uphold the freedom of the press and respect the independence of the Congress, particularly the House of Representatives where franchise bills originate, in granting and extending franchises,” Lagman explained.

Likewise, Lagman said the leadership and membership of the House of Representatives, particularly the House committee on legislative franchises, “must act independently in exercising exclusive congressional jurisdiction on the grant of franchises, and must not be cowed by the President’s wanton rantings.”

“Many Members of the House are expected to co-author the Lagman resolution as soon as session resumes on January 20, 2020,” said Lagman.