House leader hits Calida for ‘pressure’ on NTC over ABS-CBN franchise bid
MANILA, Philippines — The chairman of the House committee on legislative franchises on Tuesday said that it will not be dictated upon by individuals or government entities “as to the manner, schedule, and conduct of its official business.”
Palawan 1st District Rep. Franz Alvarez, the chair of the committee, also slammed Solicitor General Jose Calida over the latter’s alleged efforts to “pressure” the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) against granting provisional authority to ABS-CBN network in its bid to renew its franchise.
“We have recently been made aware of efforts by the Solicitor General to pressure the NTC to go against the ruling of the Department of Justice, which states that ABS-CBN may continue to broadcast while Congress deliberates on the renewal of its franchise,” Alvarez said in a statement.
“We would like to make it clear that Congress takes this matter very seriously, as it directly challenges our exclusive Constitutional authority to grant, deny, extend, revoke or modify broadcast franchises. Including having the primary jurisdiction to make an initial determination whether an application for a legislative franchise should be granted or denied,” the lawmaker added.
In February, Alvarez and Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano 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.”
On March 10, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba told members of the House that they will follow the advice of the DOJ, allowing ABS-CBN to operate while its franchise renewal bid is pending in Congress.
ABS-CBN’s franchise expired on Monday, May 4.
But on May 3, Calida said that 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.
Alvarez, however, disagreed with Calida as he cited precedence and Congress’ power to grant or deny a franchise application.
“Consistent with precedents, the Committee enjoined the National Telecommunications Commission to allow ABS-CBN to operate until such time that the House of Representatives makes a final decision on the application,” Alvarez said.
“This is necessary to allow Congress sufficient time to assess the qualifications of the applicant and make a complete review of the positions of the different stakeholders. Particularly since there are many voices for and against the renewal,” he added.
Thus, with Congress’ power as well as the justice department’s legal opinion on the issue as cited by the NTC, Alvarez said that “there is no reason for ABS-CBN to discontinue or stop their operations until we make a final decision.”
“The power of Congress to legislate is complete, full, and plenary. A legislative franchise is a law and by deciding whether to grant or deny a franchise, it is passing a law and making policy. The Solicitor General should have the decency to give Congress this courtesy to complete the exercise of its power,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez likewise extended the same warning to NTC, saying they might be called to explain should they “succumb to the pressure” being exerted by Calida.
“If the NTC chooses to succumb to the pressure of the Solicitor General, and disregard the commitments they gave under oath, we reserve the right to call them before Congress and explain why they should not be held in contempt,” Alvarez said.
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.”
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