By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri on Monday maintained that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) is authorized to issue a temporary permit allowing the ABS-CBN to continue operating.
Zubiri contradicted Solicitor General Jose Calida who warned the NTC against granting ABS-CBN a provisional authority to operate beyond the validity of its legislative franchise.
The broadcast network’s 25-year franchise expires [today,] May 4.
“With due to respect to the Solicitor General, there is no reason why the NTC should not grant…the provisional authority to ABS-CBN,” Zubiri told Senate reporters in an online meeting.
Zubiri, who chaired the committee on legislative franchises in the House of Representatives during the 12th and 13th Congress, insisted that there are precedents when the NTC had issued similar permits to entities awaiting their franchises.
He also recalled the previous statements of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and NTC
Commissioner Gamaliel Cordona during the Senate’s public hearing on the proposed grant of a new franchise after the expiry of ABS-CBN’s franchise.
Guevarra, during the Senate committee on public services’ February 24 hearing on the issues concerning the network’s franchise renewal, said ABS-CBN may continue to operate on the principle of equity as he noted that existing laws do not provide for the status of radio and TV networks during the pendency of their application for franchise renewal.
On Monday, the Department of Justice chief maintained his position on the matter.
Zubiri said Calida may bring his contentions to court, but “it’s very clear that the NTC may give provisional authority to those applying for franchise and [for those whose] franchises have expired.”
He also believed that shutting down ABS-CBN would also be untimely especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in view of the vital need for public communication facilities during the national health emergency.
“At this point in time na pandemic, kailangan natin ng information dissemination, kailangan natin information gathering, and we’ll shut down a major network — which for me, is highly irregular, at this point in time, and questionable — should not be the case. Dapat tuloy-tuloy lang ang major networks sa pagbibigay nila ng information,” the Senate leader said.
(At this point in time that we have a pandemic, when information dissemination and is necessary, and we will shut down a major network — which for me, is highly irregular, at this point in time, and questionable — should not be the case. Major networks should continue giving the public the information they need.)
Zubiri was confident that there would be no legal impediments to ABS-CBN’s continued operations.
Other senators also reiterated their support for ABS-CBN.
“That issue has been settled during our hearings. I expect the NTC to allow abs to continue to operate until Congress makes a final decision re franchise within this Congress,” Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said.
Sen. Sonny Angara said Calida’s view “seems to be in conflict with DOJ Sec. Guevarra’s opinion that they can issue a provisional authority pending discussions on the franchise extension by Congress.”
“Congress has expressed the same opinion and it has support in past legislative and executive practice,” Angara added.
The Senate, last March 4, passed a resolution asking the NTC to allow ABS-CBN to continue operating pending Congress’ decision on its franchise renewal application.
House leaders also wrote to NTC to grant the network a provisional permit to operate.
The NTC, heeding Guevarra’s opinion, committed to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority to operate.