On Sunday, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) was given a warning by the Office of the Solicitor General about issuing provisional authority (PA) to ABS-CBN Corp. and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence Inc. while the company’s franchise renewal is still pending in Congress.
SolGen Jose Calida pointed out that the NTC couldn’t grant PAs because Congress should first issue ABS-CBN a franchise.
According to Calida, the NTC commissioners are at risk of getting prosecuted under the country’s anti-graft and corruption laws in the event they grant the “unlawful” PAs to ABS-CBN in the absence of a franchise.
Back in February, the NTC received a letter from House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, chair of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises urging commissioners to grant the PAs to ABS-CBN.
In March, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba stated that the NTC will in fact issue the PAs during the hearing of the House legislative franchise committee.
The decision was influenced by the DOJ’s opinion allowing ABS-CBN to continue operating based on equity considerations, according to Cordoba.
The Senate concurred that the NTC should grant the PAs.
Calida, on the other hand, emphasized that the Constitution gives Congress “the exclusive power to grant franchises to public utilities, such as broadcasting companies, in order to operate in the country.
“Although this legislative power may be delegated to administrative agencies through a law, at present, there is no such law giving the NTC or any other agency the power to grant franchises to broadcasting entities,” his statement read.
Calida referenced a 2014 Supreme Court decision saying a company should, first and foremost, secure a franchise from Congress.
After getting the franchise, the company must then apply for a Certificate of Public Convenience (CPC) from the NTC before it can operate.
While the approval of the CPC is still pending, the company is allowed to apply for a PA so its operations can commence.
“Hence, a PA should only be issued once a congressional franchise has been granted and an application for CPC is pending before the NTC for approval,” Calida said. “The NTC cannot issue a PA when the broadcast company has no valid and existing legislative franchise.
“No less than the Constitution requires a prior franchise from Congress. Hence, when there is no renewal, the franchise expires by operation of law. The franchise ceases to exist and the entity can no longer continue its operations as a public utility,” he added.
Calida also mentioned that the NTC can only issue a cease and desist order and/or a recall order against a broadcasting entity in the absence of a congressional franchise.
The appeals from the House and Senate are not to be relied on by the NTC, said the Solicitor General.
“These issuances cannot amend the current law requiring a congressional franchise for the operation of broadcasting networks. Not being separate laws themselves, they cannot amend or repeal prior laws,” Calida said.
Calida has since been asked by Agusan del Norte 1st District Rep. Lawrence Fortun to withdraw his legal issues against ABS-CBN Corp. amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the country,
Fortun says it is “most unwise” to shut ABS-CBN, a company that has over 11,000 employees in this trying time.
“To do so would be to deliberately exacerbate the crisis the country is facing now,” he said in a statement.
“The country is confronted with an unprecedented crisis and the network is heavily involved not only in disseminating the most important information the public needs to be kept abreast with but also in raising funds to help our frontliners and the poor and vulnerable families most affected by the pandemic. Their outreach program has raised hundreds of millions of pesos.”
Fortun added it would be a “derelict indiscretion” for the NTC to retract their promise to Congress in issuing provisional authorities to ABS-CBN so it could operate until June 2022. ABS-CBN’s franchise is scheduled to end on Monday, May 4, 2020.
“Since Congress, both the House and the Senate, have already officially expressed an unmistakable intent to grant the network provisional authority, the NTC should, as it has in the past, issue now that provisional authority.
“The network, with its wide reach, has helped government reach out to more corners of the country to inform people of developments as well as policies and directives that local governments, people, and communities are required to comply with.”
Regarding Calida’s issues against ABS-CBN, he was invited by the Senate to attend an inquiry, but he never showed up.