ABS-CBN Corp. broadcast network can continue to operate even beyond the expiration of its franchise on March 30, senators said on Wednesday.
Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd and Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go shared the view that the network would not be shut down should the 18th Congress fail to renew its franchise. They said the company would only have to obtain a permit from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to continue operating.
Several bills seeking to renew the broadcast firm’s franchise are pending with the House of Representatives.
Asked whether the network can still operate if Congress fails to renew its franchise, Sotto said, “yes.”
“Even provisional authority is not necessary because as long as there is a pending franchise, or pending bill for extension of franchise, they are deemed extended. Ganun ‘yun (That’s how it is),” he explained.
“They can still operate. If it is not approved until March 2022, that is the only time that it is terminated. As long as there’s a pending bill [for franchise renewal], it is deemed extended.
It has happened so many times in other franchises,” the Senate president said.
Go meanwhile said that the March 30 expiration of ABS-CBN’s franchise would take effect on May 5. “I think, there are 45 days after [it can take effect].”
“So, ‘pag hindi pa po na-re renew ng Congress pwede sila mag-operate with temporary permit mula sa NTC (So, if Congress fails to renew [its franchise], they can operate [under] temporary permit from the NTC),” he said in an interview.
“Kung wala pang ginagawa ang Congress (If Congress fails to act [on pending bills for its franchise renewal], walang approval (if there was no approval), no action taken by Congress they can still operate with temporary permit from NTC,” Go stressed.
“In 2022, wala pa ring nangyari, ‘yun na ‘yun, doon siya ((If in 2022 nothing happens, that’s it. That is when it is) deemed terminated. Hintayin nila ‘yung bagong Congress, magfile ng bagong franchise (They have to wait for the new Congress to file a new franchise),” Sotto said.
Rep. Antonio “Tonypet” Albano, vice chairman of the Committee on Legislative Franchises at the House of Representatives, expressed the same view.
“Senate President Sotto and I have already explained so many times that ABS-CBN may actually legally continue to operate under its existing franchise until that is formally terminated or until the end of the 18th Congress,” Albano said.
Eleven bills seeking to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise are pending at the committee level. The panel has yet to set a schedule a hearing.
Albano said that the committee would tackle the franchise bills based on House processes.
“On the matter of the franchise of ABS-CBN, we must and are proceeding steadily but cautiously given the highly-charged atmosphere among those who are against and in favor of its renewal,” the lawmaker said. “While we understand the concerns aired by various sectors, including our colleagues in the Senate, we stand by our process and refuse to be stampeded or coerced into making hasty decisions for political mileage.”
He urged the network to respond to the concerns raised by the Office of the Solicitor General in its quo warranto petition filed before the Supreme Court.
“At this time, we urge the network to just respond to the issues raised by the solicitor general Jose Calida as it is highly probable that those same concerns will be tackled in our hearings. But more than this, following the advice of the Speaker for soul-searching, this might be the most opportune time for the company to try to understand why public sentiment is also against the station,” Albano said.
“As a government franchisee, the network’s continued operation relies heavily on its ability to serve the public good. As it stands now, there are serious concerns being raised against ABS-CBN by various sectors not just by the President and the Speaker and other politicians and business people as to its business practices and its delivery of information to the public,” he added.
Also on Wednesday, Malacañang maintained that President Rodrigo Duterte has not exerted any pressure on Congress in connection with the issue.
“The President absolutely is not lobbying, and there is no lobby coming from members of Congress to him because members of Congress know that the President does not entertain any call from them in relation to any measure being discussed in Congress,” Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
Panelo had said that the President had no hand in the filing of the quo warranto petition against the network.
The Malacañang Press Corps (MPC) also issued a statement that it stands for the protection of press freedom and right to information.
“The MPC deplores any attempt to curtail these freedoms, in any way and form,” it said.
“In recent years, the MPC has taken a stand against threats and attacks on press freedom, including efforts to spread fake news and discredit the traditional media,” it added.
The MPC said “it will remain vigilant against attempts to weaponize legal remedies and processes to suppress free expression, a key component of a healthy democracy and a right enshrined in the constitution.”
WITH DIVINA NOVA JOY DELA CRUZ AND REINA TOLENTINO