By Hannah Torregoza
Opposition senators on Monday insisted that nothing prevents the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) from issuing a provisional authority to ABS-CBN Corp. and its subsidiaries while its application for a franchise renewal is still pending before Congress.
“I stand with my colleagues in the Senate and the House of Representatives that nothing should prevent the National Telecommunications Commission from issuing a provisional authority to ABS-CBN and its subsidiaries while the renewal of its franchise is pending in Congress,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said in a statement.
“The Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) itself are all in agreement that Congress may allow the NTC to grant a provisional authority to ABS-CBN, in the meantime,” Hontiveros added.
Hontiveros issued the statement as the legislative franchise of ABS-CBN expires on May 4. The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) earlier warned the NTC against issuing a provisional authority to ABS-CBN in the absence of a franchise from Congress.
But Hontiveros pointed out it was Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, himself who proposed and confirmed during the Senate hearings that Congress may authorize such action.
“It is very strange to me why the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) insists on contradicting the uniform views of not only both houses of Congress, but also the DOJ itself- to which the OSG is attached,” said Hontiveros.
“Even more questionable is why the government’s chief counsel insists on shutting down a broadcast network in the middle of a health emergency and depriving the public of a critical means to receive timely and accurate information,” she said.
“The OSG has misplaced priorities, and should just focus its energies on supporting government efforts amid the pandemic,” the lawmaker further stressed.
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon, for his part, said the OSG should be reminded of its mandate under the Revised Administrative Code, wherein the OSG shall act as lawyer of government agencies including the NTC.
“There is a conflict of interest there when the lawyer threatens to sue its client. It is NTC and not OSG that is granted regulatory functions under the law,” Drilon said.
“This is not the first time that NTC will be issuing a temporary and conditional permit to operate. It has been done in the past and has been recognized in the 2003 case being cited by (Solicitor General Jose) Calida,” he pointed out.
Drilon said the Court never barred the NTC from issuing temporary permits to operate. “It merely said that the broadcaster cannot completely do away with the requirement to apply for a franchise, as provided under the law,” the former justice secretary said.
Drilon reiterated that the grant of a franchise is a sovereign power granted in Congress and Congress already wrote to the NTC.
“What power does the Solicitor General have to contradict the body that acts as the repository of the sovereign power? The OSG cannot say that an act of the legislative or an agency of the executive branch is illegal. That is for the Courts to decide,” he argued.
“Assuming that the OSG and the NTC take conflicting positions, the Administrative Code provides that all disputes involving questions of law shall be settled or decided by the Secretary of Justice,” he said.
Drilon maintained there is nothing in the law that allows the OSG to overturn an opinion rendered by the DOJ Secretary.