Puno: ABS-CBN can’t continue operating without new license
MANILA, Philippines — ABS-CBN may have breathed a sigh of relief too soon on Monday when Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said at a Senate hearing that the network could continue airing programs after the lapse of its franchise on May 4 while Congress was deliberating on bills that would give it a new broadcast license.
A day after the Senate hearing in which ABS-CBN apologized to President Duterte for not airing his regional campaign ads days before the 2016 presidential election, former Chief Justice Reynato Puno said the TV network could no longer operate once its legislative franchise expired, unless it got a new broadcast license from Congress.
Interviewed on CNN Philippines on Tuesday, Puno said the Supreme Court had ruled that a TV station was required to have a franchise and that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) could not grant it a provisional permit without the license.
Puno pointed to the Feb. 17, 2003, decision of the Supreme Court’s Third Division in Associated Communications & Wireless Services-United Broadcasting Networks versus NTC, which he penned before he was appointed chief justice in 2006.
“We were unanimous in holding that there is need for a franchise before the NTC can grant a provisional permit,’’ Puno said in the interview. “Without a franchise, the television station concerned has to cease operations.”
The Supreme Court ruling thus upheld the requirement of a congressional franchise for the operation of a TV station.
“As long as the law remains unchanged, the requirement of a franchise to operate a television station must be upheld,” the ruling concluded. It added that calls to dispense with this requirement must be addressed to Congress “for the court’s function is to interpret and not to rewrite the law.”
The decision was unanimously carried by the other division members: eventual Chief Justices Renato Corona and Artemio Panganiban, eventual Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and then Associate Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez. Puno also pointed out that NTC, which serves as the regulator of TV and radio stations, had no authority to issue a provisional license to an entity lacking a franchise from Congress.
This is according to Republic Act No. 7925, or the Public Telecommunications Policy Act of 1995, the former chief justice said.
“They (NTC) don’t have this power [to issue a provisional license] without a franchise given by Congress. This is RA 7925 itself which defines the powers of the NTC,” Puno said.
If there is no franchise issued by Congress, ABS-CBN “cannot operate because of that decision by the Supreme Court and the laws we have, particularly RA 7925,” he went on. Issuing ABS-CBN a provisional license pending the renewal of its franchise was broached by Justice Secretary Guevarra at the Senate hearing on the impact of a possible shutdown of ABS-CBN.
To NTC’s query whether ABS-CBN may still operate after its franchise expires, Guevarra said Congress may order the commission to issue the broadcast network a provisional or temporary license while the bills for its franchise renewal were pending.
Guevarra, however, said that it would be better if the House of Representatives and Senate pass a joint resolution allowing NTC to issue the provisional authority for ABS-CBN to continue operations while awaiting congressional approval of a new franchise.
NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba told senators that broadcast firms had been allowed to stay on-air even if Congress had yet to formally act on their franchise. Among them were Smart Communications Inc., Globe Innove and the radio stations owned by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, he said.
Puno said the practice should be discontinued.
“That is by mere tolerance, by mere practice. That practice cannot be sustained if you have a decision of the Supreme Court and you have a law saying that you need to have a franchise,” he said in the CNN interview.
At the Senate hearing, Cordoba said he would wait for Guevarra’s reply to his request for a legal opinion before deciding on whether to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority to operate.
According to Guevarra, the Department of Justice will no longer issue a formal legal opinion as requested by NTC because the matter of a broadcast company’s rights after the expiration of its franchise “belongs to the realm of the legislature over which the SOJ (Secretary of Justice) has no revisory authority.”
Taking off from Guevarra’s suggestion, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Tuesday said he would file a concurrent resolution urging Congress to let NTC grant a temporary license to ABS-CBN.
In the House, Cebu Rep. Raul del Mar has filed a proposed joint resolution extending the validity of the network’s license until the end of Mr. Duterte’s term in 2022. Majority Leader Martin Romualdez said it was now up to the legislative franchises panel to consider Del Mar’s resolution.
Since Mr. Duterte announced in December that he would see to it that ABS-CBN’s franchise was not renewed, the House has not acted on a number of bills on a new ABS-CBN franchise.
Solicitor General Jose Calida on Feb. 10 petitioned the Supreme Court to invalidate ABS-CBN’s existing franchise for alleged violation of the terms of its franchise and of the Constitution.
The media conglomerate has denied violating any laws or the Constitution. —With reports from Marlon Ramos and DJ Yap
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