By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Lawmakers rejected on Sunday the proposed remedies seeking a temporary fix to ABS-CBN’s impending lack of a valid legislative franchise.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the alternative reliefs will only make the broadcast giant a “tame hostage” seeing that the renewal of its franchise could happen until after the May, 2022, presidential and general elections.
“Proffered alternative ‘reliefs’ which are short of an actual renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise will not give succor to the network giant, its imperiled employees, and the prejudiced viewing public,” he said.
He added that some of the proposed remedies are “not legal and viable,” and might throw ABS-CBN into a “quagmire of legal problems.”
Lagman, a lawyer, explained that Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Palawan 1st district Rep. Franz Alvarez, chairman of the House Committee on Franchises, have “no authority” to instruct National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to grant a provisional franchise to ABS-CBN.
In a letter dated Feb. 26, 2020, Cayetano and Alvarez enjoined the NTC to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority to operate effective from May 4, 2020 until such time that Congress has made a decision on its application.
In the same letter, they also enjoined the NTC to grant ABS-CBN Corp.’s subsidiaries and /or affiliates, whose franchise applications are pending deliberation with the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, the same provisional authority.
Lagman said the letter of the two House leaders did not even have the collective “concurrence” of the House of Representatives and “is against the law and jurisprudence.”
He also explained that the NTC has no jurisdiction to grant a provisional authority to an entity which has no franchise or has an expired franchise.
“Section 16 of RA 7925 clearly provides that “No person shall commence or conduct the business of being a public telecommunications entity without first obtaining a franchise,”,” he said.
Lagman also noted that a Joint Resolution extending the franchise of ABS-CBN for a short duration is “consequently unconstitutional” pursuant to the Supreme Court decision in Ang Nars Party-List vs. Executive Secretary, G.R. No. 215746, October 8, 2019, which held that a joint resolution cannot amend a law.
He said the joint resolution is an amendment to R.A. No. 7966 which granted ABS-CBN only 25 years to operate, unless renewed by a legislative enactment.
Cagayan de Oro City 2nd district Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and Cebu 1st district Rep. Raul del Mar earlier filed a joint resolution seeking to extend ABS-CBN’s franchise until May 4, 2021 and until the end of the 18th Congress on June 30, 2022, respectively.
“A concurrent resolution of the House and the Senate expressing the sense of urging the Congress to grant the franchise of ABS-CBN has no legal efficacy because a concurrent resolution does not have the force and effect of a law,” Lagman added.
He also said that the practice of allowing entities or networks to continue operations pending the renewal of their respective franchises is a mere practice which has not been validated by jurisprudence and can be challenged anytime as to its legality.
“The doctrine of equity does not apply in the eventual expiration of ABS-CBN franchise because the law and jurisprudence are clear that there must be ‘no operation without a franchise.’ Equity only comes in when the law is silent or ambiguous, and going against the unequivocal provision of the law is inequitable,” he said.
Citing that the other suggested remedies are not legal and viable, Lagman said the House of Representatives should immediately act on the franchise renewal bills within the remaining six working days before Congress goes on a Lenten break.
BUHAY party-list Rep. Lito Atienza agreed with Lagman and described as “nonsense” all suggestions for Congress to try to work out a temporary fix to ABS-CBN’s non-renewal of its franchise on or before May 4.
“Why should we bother to look for a short-term remedy, when a permanent cure is already on the table? All that the House has to do now is put the bill renewing ABS-CBN’s franchise to a vote at the committee level, and then on the floor,” Atienza said.
“Once Congress approves the extension of ABS-CBN’s franchise and the bill is forwarded to Malacañang, our sense is, the President will just allow the measure to lapse into law without his signature, in accordance with Article VI, Section 27 (1) of the Constitution,” he said.
Atienza said over the years, most, if not all franchise bills approved by Congress simply lapse into law without the Chief Executive’s signature anyway.
He said a “silent majority” of House members support the passage of the bills seeking to renew ABS-CBN Corp.’s franchise by another 25 years.
“We have a silent majority that does not express its opinion publicly, but supports the extension of ABS-CBN’s franchise, so that the House can also move forward and deal with other pressing concerns,” he said.
“Many of those in the ‘hushed majority’ are unwilling to speak out because they fear reprisals from the House leadership,” Atienza, former three-term mayor of Manila, said.