While the entire nation is busy combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, news about the franchise of ABS-CBN network resurfaced. We see a flurry of verbal tussles among our lawmakers and legal luminaries on whether the country’s largest television network can continue to operate as its franchise to operate expired yesterday.
We have seen how the Philippines’ largest network has shown a vital role in promoting an awareness on various social issues, disseminating critical information, providing quality entertainment, and mobilizing for public action in times of national disasters and calamities, The question at hand: can ABS-CBN operate on the strength of a provisional authority issued by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) pending the renewal of the network’s franchise by Congress or not?
Last Sunday, the government chief lawyer, Solicitor General Jose Calida has warned the NTC against issuing a provisional authority in the absence of a Congress-approved franchise. A mere letter from leaders of the House of Representatives nor a resolution from the Senate would suffice to save the telecommunications regulatory body from possible legal responsibility.
And Calida minced no words in his warning that NTC commissioners could be liable under the country’s anti-graft and corruption laws should they grant ABS-CBN the provisional authority to operate without a franchise from Congress.
In the past, former Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has made it crystal clear what the law says—a law crafted by the same institution that wants to violate it or wants the NTC to infringe it.
“I don’t think the House or a committee of the House can compel the NTC to issue a provisional authority. There is no basis to give a provisional authority because there is no franchise,” Justice Carpio has said in his past interviews.
Every franchise is a law because Republic Act No. 3846 requires all broadcasters to obtain a franchise from Congress before they are allowed to operate. And a provision under the law says a recipient of a franchise must obtain permits and licenses from the NTC in order to operate.
Meanwhile, Congressman Edcel Lagman said that only a full-fledged franchise for ABS-CBN can it be allowed to operate. What does this mean? The long and short of it is that Congress, where all broadcasting franchises emanate, should begin hearing the franchise application of ABS-CBN if it wants the network to continue airing. Period. This is the only solution.
So the next time you switch on your television set and you don’t see the news or favorite show on ABS-CBN, you know what just happened.