Drilon files bill seeking non-expiration of franchise with pending renewal in Congress
MANILA, Philippines — Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday filed a bill that seeks the non-expiration of a franchise whose renewal has been filed and remained pending in Congress.
Drilon filed Senate Bill No. 1530 amid the woes encountered by network giant ABS-CBN in the renewal of its legislative franchise, that eventually resulted in it going off the air last week on orders of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).
The bill seeks to amend Section 18, Book VII, Chapter 3 of Revised Administrative Code which provides for the non-expiration of a license, where the licensee has filed a timely and sufficient application for renewal, until a final determination on the application has been made.
Drilon’s amendment expands the provision to also include franchises granted by Congress.
“While it is recognized that a franchise, license or certificate is not a privilege, this rule must be tempered with considerations of equity, fairness, due process, and equal protection, particularly when the service being provided has been so woven into everyday life, that its abrupt cessation could give rise to devastating consequences,” the bill’s explanatory note read.
On May 5, NTC ordered the shut down of the country’s largest broadcast company upon the lapse of its franchise on May 4.
The application for renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise is still pending with the House of Representatives.
“We should prevent similar incidents from happening again in the future. We cannot afford to wake up one day without water, electricity or public transportation, only because an agency, a department or a branch of government failed to act on the renewal before the lapse of the license or franchise,” he added.
The bill, according to Drilon, would ensure that a license or franchise will not expire until the application for renewal has been acted upon by the agency, department, or branch of government that grants or renews such license or franchise.
“Inaction on a pending application shall not be considered a denial,” a portion of Drilon’s proposed amendment read.
“This makes it incumbent upon the issuing authority to act on an application and avoid situations where silence or inaction could effectively bar the operations of an enterprise,” the senator said.
Drilon, a former justice secretary, claimed that the bill will not violate or diminish the power of Congress regarding franchises under the Constitution.
“It places in the statute what has been a common practice in the past when it comes to renewal of an expiring franchise, which is to allow it to operate, provided that an application for renewal has been filed within the same Congress,” he said.
He said his proposed amendment would merely be an instruction to the concerned agency or branch of government “to act decisively on an application for renewal, and to express its decision in clear, unmistakable terms, to ensure that the applicant is not punished for the authority’s indecision or inaction.”
“The bill does not propose to do away with the license or franchise requirement, despite views expressed by the Supreme Court that the power to grant franchises may be delegated by Congress,” he said.
Citing jurisprudence in the case of Albano v. Reyes, Drilon noted that while the Constitution reserves to Congress the right to amend, alter or repeal a franchise, it does not say that a congressional franchise is required before each and every public utility may operate.
The senator also cited a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Associated Communications & Wireless Services v. National Telecommunications Commission which recognized that there are existing statutes which delegate to agencies the power to issue a franchise, certificate or authorization for certain classes of public utilities.
Earlier, Senator Grace Poe said Congress may look into crafting a law that would automatically extend a franchise pending its renewal in Congress.
Poe, chair of the Senate public services committee, said this could fill the “gap in the law” which failed to determine how Congress should deal with an expiring franchise whose renewal is still being deliberated on.
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