ABS-CBN can operate beyond franchise expiry- House franchise panel vice chair

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 11 2020 04:14 PM | Updated as of Feb 11 2020 07:05 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - ABS-CBN Corp can continue its broadcast business beyond the expiration of its franchise by the end of March, the vice chair of the House panel on legislative franchises said Tuesday. 

The expiration of the network's franchise would not mean its immediate shutdown, Isabela 1st District Rep. Antonio Albano said, as the network faced threats to its operations. 

“May I remind the public that even if the ABS-CBN franchise expires on the said date on March, it does not mean that ABS-CBN will close completely because the rule of thumb in the committee, we were briefed on this while this 18th Congress is ongoing, hindi po titigil ang services ng ABS-CBN hanggang po matapos ang (ABS-CBN's services will not be terminated until the end of the) 18th Congress," Albano told reporters.

Bills renewing ABS-CBN's franchise remain pending in Congress, and Solicitor General Jose Calida has just filed a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court invalidating its current license. 

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said he would block the network's franchise renewal. 

In a separate interview, Senate President Vicente Sotto III made a similar statement. 

"Basta as long as may naka-file na bill, it is deemed extended until matapos 'yung 18th Congress at hindi pa rin hini-hear," Sotto told reporters when asked about the franchise that has remained in limbo since the 18th Congress opened in July 2019.

(As long as there's a bill filed, it is deemed extended until the end of the 18th Congress and it has not undergone hearings.)

"It has happened so many times with other franchises. That is the operation of law... If it is not approved until March of 2022, that is the only time it is terminated," said Sotto, who was the former chair of the Senate Public Services Committee.

At least 11 bills seeking to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN remain pending in the House of Representatives 50 days before the expiration of its license to operate.

45-DAY EXTENSION?

ABS-CBN can opt to apply for a 45-day extension from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) should the House not act on the bills seeking its franchise renewal, Sen. Bong Go said.

"While hindi pa nare-renew ng Congress, puwede sila mag-operate [through a] temporary permit ata mula sa National Telecommunications Commission," he said.

(While Congress has yet to renew the franchise, they can operate through a temporary permit from the National Telecommunications Commission.)

The temporary permit can extend ABS-CBN's license to operate until May 5, 2020, he said.

Interpretations of other lawmakers that the station needs to shut down after Congress goes on a break on March 14 "is not correct," Sotto said. 

"Ang masama kung napaso na 'yung franchise at magfa-file pa lang [ng bill seeking renewal]," he said.

(What's not good is when the bills for renewal are filed when the franchise had already expired.)

If the House is not willing to renew ABS-CBN's franchise, then they should simply deny it, he said.

QUO WARRANTO EFFECT

The Solicitor General's quo warranto petition seeking to void the existing ABS-CBN franchise cannot affect the company's new bid to operate if the House will amend the extension bills pending in its chamber, Sotto said.

The House can just amend the bills to seek a new franchise for ABS-CBN instead of "renewing" its license, he said.

"The quo warranto is for the old franchise. Walang (There is no) quo warranto for the new franchise," he said.

"Puwede nila amyendahan sa committee 'yun kung gusto nila talaga (They can amend that in the committee if they want to)," he said.

Sotto said he would invite House leaders to a meeting next week to discuss ABS-CBN's pending franchise renewal.

"I might initiate it already para magkaalaman na, para malaman na natin, tanungin na natin 'yung House kung ano talaga mangyayari. Nag-aantay ba kami sa wala or what?" Sotto said.

(I might initiate it already to know, we will ask the House what will happen. Are we waiting for nothing or what?)

"At the moment we are handcuffed. Until it reaches the Senate, we cannot do anything about it," he said.

FRANCHISE RENEWAL NO PROBLEM IN SENATE

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said most senators would likely back ABS-CBN's bid to continue its 65 years of service in the news and entertainment industry.

"I can't give you the exact number, but on a head count, majority support it (franchise renewal). I don't think that it will have a difficult time in the Senate," Zubiri said.

"But we don't have a hold on the House. It is a separate branch of legislature," he said.

Several House members have already urged the Committee on Legislative Franchises to act on the pending bills before the network's franchise expires on March 30, 2020.

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said he would move to shut down ABS-CBN after the company allegedly failed to pay its taxes and refused to air some of his campaign advertisements in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Malacañang has said the President's earlier statements had nothing to do with the Solicitor General's quo warranto petition. 

Responding to the plea before the high court, ABS-CBN said it "did not violate" any law and continues to stay true to its mandate of being "in the service of the Filipino."

- reports from Katrina Domingo and RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News