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ABS-CBN’s franchise expires, what’s next?

/ 09:34 AM May 04, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The legislative franchise of media giant ABS-CBN expires today, May 4, but will it shut down its operations?

No it will not, if according to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano who, in multiple occasions, has said that there were “no moves” to have the network close down as its bid for franchise renewal remains pending in the House of Representatives.

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Cayetano has assured that the network would not stop its operations, citing their order to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority to operate while their bid for franchise renewal is being tackled in the lower chamber.

To recall, Cayetano and Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, the franchise committee chair, earlier sent a letter to the NTC enjoining the commission to grant a provisional authority to operate to ABS-CBN effective on May 4, 2020, “until such time that the House of Representatives/Congress has made a decision on its application.”

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On March 10, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba told members of the House that they will follow the advice of the Department of Justice (DOJ), allowing ABS-CBN to operate while its franchise renewal bid is pending in Congress.

READ: NTC: ABS-CBN will be allowed to operate beyond May 4

But over the weekend, May 3, Solicitor General Jose Calida, who earlier filed a quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN in a move to have the network’s franchise revoked, warned the NTC against granting provisional authority to ABS-CBN.

According to Calida, NTC could not grant provisional authorities to ABS-CBN Corporation and its affiliate, ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc. because it must first secure a franchise from Congress.

Calida said the NTC commissioners could risk subjecting themselves to prosecution under the country’s anti-graft and corruption laws should they issue the “unlawful” provisional authorities to ABS-CBN while not having a franchise.

Cayetano, however, has previously reiterated Congress’ power to make such orders to the NTC.

“Ang tingin ng Kongreso (The Congress believes that), if we have the authority to give a broadcast company 25 years to operate, why can’t we give them a few months to operate while we’re in the middle of the hearings?” Cayetano said in a recent interview with CNN Philippines.

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“Ang basis namin yung Constitution (Our basis is the Constitution). The constitutional right for us to grant franchises,” he added.

The 11 bills seeking the renewal of franchise of ABS-CBN remain pending before the House committee on legislative franchises—the earliest of which, at least in the 18th Congress, was filed in July 2019.

So far, the committee on legislative franchises has only held one hearing—or meeting—to discuss the matter. But during this meeting, no one from ABS-CBN or from the opposition was invited.

Instead, the lawmakers decided to first draft the ground rules for the formal deliberations of the franchise renewal bid of ABS-CBN, which Cayetano earlier deemed to be necessary so that the hearings would not be a “circus.”

READ: Cayetano to meet with some senators to discuss ABS-CBN franchise

Now, what’s taking it so long?

Cayetano has said that there are “more urgent” measures than the ABS-CBN franchise renewal that are being prioritized by the lower chamber.

This includes, among others, the creation of the Department for Overseas Filipino Workers, the Department of Disaster Management, and the Department of  Water; the improvement of the K to 12 program; the improvement of the national health preparedness; and the strengthening of the government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign.

Republic Act No. 3846 requires television and radio broadcasting companies to secure a franchise from the government before they are allowed to operate. It is Congress that will decide whether to extend the franchise to public utilities, such as the media.

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TAGS: ABS-CBN, ABS-CBN franchise, Alan Peter Cayetano, House of Representatives
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