Sen. Drilon insists ABS-CBN can't operate without franchise after March 30


Posted at Feb 20 2020 05:39 PM | Updated as of Feb 20 2020 10:06 PM

ABS-CBN Broadcasting Center, Sgt. Esguerra, Diliman, Quezon City, Feb. 11, 2020. Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - ABS-CBN will go off the air after its franchise expires, Sen. Franklin Drilon said Thursday, refuting claims by several lawmakers that the network's broadcast license is deemed extended through 2022 if Congress fails to grant a new one by March 30.

Speaking at ANC's "Headstart," Drilon said that as a lawyer, he does not agree with views expressed by politicians, both from the Senate and the House of Representatives, that ABS-CBN can continue operating absent a new franchise after end of March.

"The Supreme Court has squarely ruled that a franchisee cannot anymore operate as a broadcast station if there's no longer a franchise," Drilon, who once served as Justice Secretary, said.

"Of course, there is this view (from politicians), but you are taking a risk that the Supreme Court will rule otherwise as it has ruled in some cases," he added.

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the senator said, cannot also issue a temporary operations permit to a network with an expired franchise.

Drilon earlier expressed doubts the state regulator would side with ABS-CBN. NTC is under the supervision of the office of President Rodrigo Duterte, who had repeatedly threatened to block the network's franchise.

With only few sessions left before Congress adjourns after March 11, Drilon filed a joint resolution seeking to extend ABS-CBN's franchise until 2022.

"It's not for ABS-CBN. It is for Congress to be given time to review the very serious allegations made by Solicitor General [Jose Calida] in the Supreme Court," he said of the resolution.

Calida filed a quo warranto petition before the high court to nullify the network's license for allegedly violating its franchise and the constitutional ban against foreign ownership of mass media. ABS-CBN said it did not commit such violations.

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The senator reiterated that Congress is the "proper venue" on franchise renewal and not the Supreme Court.

"Whether or not ABS-CBN has violated the terms of its franchise, it would have to be passed upon by Congress because we are in the process of renewing," he said. "The jurisdiction is with us."

While several lawmakers expressed personal grievances against the network's editorial coverage, Drilon maintained it should not be the basis for canceling ABS-CBN's franchise.

"Editorial content and judgement are not grounds to cancel a franchise," he said.

Broadcast franchise would only be revoked if the specified terms of its operation are violated, he said.

Drilon said that once enacted, the joint resolution he filed, which must be approved by Congress and the President, "has the force and effect of a law."

The measure will put ABS-CBN workers at ease, he added. "I don't want to risk the livelihood of the 11,000 ABS-CBN employees on a theory that ABS-CBN and its 11,000 employees can continue after March 30 without a franchise."