DOJ chief: Congress should authorize NTC to issue provisional authority to operate to ABS-CBN

By Hannah Torregoza

Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Monday said Congress should authorize the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to issue a provisional authority to allow ABS-CBN Corporation to continue to operate even without a franchise.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra (PCOO / MANILA BULLETIN) Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra

Guevarra, who appeared at the Senate public services committee’s hearing on the ABS-CBN network’s franchise, said such “considerations of equity” will help the media network cope while the various measures calling for the renewal of its franchise are still pending at the House of Representatives.

“Considerations of equity have apparently been applied in previous similar situations presented earlier, namely, among others, PT&T, Smart Communications Inc., CBCP Inc., all of whom were allowed to operate despite expired franchises as long as application for the renewal of their franchises were lodged with the Congress before the lapse of their term,” Guevarra told the Senate panel chaired by Sen. Grace Poe.

“The grant of a franchise is an exercise of sovereign power and under our Constitution, that power is vested in the Congress. By necessary implication, such power of Congress also includes the power to prescribe the rights of a franchisee applicant pending final determination of the renewal of its franchise by the Congress,” the justice secretary said.

“It is, therefore, respectfully submitted that the Congress, by a concurrent resolution, may authorize the NTC to issue a provisional authority subject to such terms and conditions as the NTC may deem fit to ABS-CBN and other entities similarly situated, authorizing them to continue operating subject to Congress' eventual disposition of their renewal of the application,” he stressed.

Earlier, Guevarra said ABS-CBN’s franchise is expected to expire on May 4, 2020 due to the fact that the time of the effectivity of the network’s franchise was published on April 19, 1995 or 15 days after the grant of its franchise.

Executives of ABS-CBN have also denied it has violated its legislative franchise despite President Duterte’s claim it committed “highly abusive practices.”

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), earlier, filed a quo warranto case against ABS-CBN alleging it is operating a pay-per-view channel on free-to-air signals without getting any approval from the NTC.

When Sen. Francis Tolentino’s asked why Guevarra offered such proposal, and questioned the relationship of the DOJ and the OSG, which is under its jurisdiction, the secretary clarified that the OSG is operating as an autonomous agency.

“It is only attached to the DOJ for budgetary purposes. Other than that it is an autonomous and independent of the DOJ,” Guevarra stressed.

“Now they have filed this petition for quo warranto … they have alleged grounds to support a prayer for the forfeiture of the franchise of ABS-CBN , I presume they have studied this matter very carefully,” he pointed out.

Nevertheless, Guevarra said he attended the Senate hearing not to propound on the quo warranto proceedings but to provide insights on the issue on the various bills calling for ABS-CBN’s renewal of franchise.

“I am here not in connection with the quo warranto proceedings. But in connection with the issue of a possibility of what happens in the interim while a renewal franchise bill is being considered by the congress. And I believe they are totally two different issues,” he pointed out.

“I am here not in connection with that existing franchise but to provide some inputs as to how things should happen in the interim when the existing franchise that is under attack actually lapses or expires, or until the time when Congress actually acted on the franchise… acted on the bill,” the DOJ chief stressed.