By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Tuesday that ABS-CBN may still continue to operate beyond March 30 as long as there is a pending bill seeking the renewal of its congressional franchise.
Sotto, citing his experience as chairperson of the Senate Committee on Public Services in the 10th Congress, said the media giant’s 25-year franchise, which is set to expire on March 30, is “deemed extended” until the end of the 18th Congress in 2022 unless lawmakers decide to deny its renewal.
“They can still operate. If it is not approved until March of 2022, that is the only time that it is terminated. As long as may naka-file na bill (that there is a bill filed about it), it is deemed extended. It has happened so many times in other franchises,” Sotto told reporters.
“Even provisional authority (by the National Telecommunications Commission) is not necessary because as long as there is a pending franchise, or pending bill for extension of franchise, they are deemed extended. Ganon ‘yon (That’s how it is),” he said.
Sotto’s view was contrary with those of Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, who both said the ABS-CBN needs a franchise to be able to legally operate.
“A bill is not a law,” Pimentel said in a separate interview.
But Sotto said his colleagues may only have not reviewed their legislative procedures. Drilon and Pimentel are both lawyers and former Senate chiefs.
“Ang akala ninyo ba pagdating ng March 14, kailangan hinto na sila (You thought that when March 14 comes, they have to cease operations)? Hindi (No), that is not true. That’s not correct, better check the copy of law covering franchises. That has happened so many times,” he reiterated.
“That is the operation of law,” Sotto said.
Republic Act No. 7966, which granted ABS-CBN the franchise to construct, install, operate, and maintain television and radio broadcasting stations in the country, said the franchise should have a term of 25 years. It was signed into law in 1995.
Isabela 1st District Rep. Antonio Albano, vice chair of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, shared Sotto’s belief.
But Sotto, in a text message sent to reporters later, said the ABS-CBN could also secure a permit from the NTC to be able to continue doing business.
“As of now, the practice is the NTC is authorized to issue a provisional authority to operate while franchise is pending. Recent actions were for the Globe franchise. They should have that even now,” he said.
Sen. Christopher Go said the broadcast network could ask for a 45-day extension from the NTC to be able to operate until May.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri earlier said majority of senators support the renewal of the franchise.
Some of those who voiced out their support were Zubiri, Sen. Nancy Binay, and Sotto, who was reluctant at first to weigh in on the issue.
Senators have urged the House of Representatives (HoR) to act on the pending bills on the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise so the Senate could discuss it. Under the Constitution, franchises emanate from the Lower Chamber.
“Let the Supreme Court deal with the SolGen’s quo warranto petition. It gives no reason why the HoR should not report out and debate in plenary the application for legislative franchise filed by ABS-CBN and transmit the bill to the Senate for our immediate deliberation,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.
Sotto said the congressmen should deny outright the company’s franchise if they in fact do now want to renew it.
Solicitor General Jose Calida on Monday filed a quo warranto petition to revoke ABS-CBN’s franchise, claiming that it committed abuses and violations of the Constitution.
Congress is scheduled to go on a break on March 14 and will resume sessions in May.