Lacson: Provisional permit after ABS-CBN franchise lapse illegal, but network's predicament 'unfair'

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 27 2020 01:28 PM

MANILA - It would be illegal to grant a provisional permit to allow ABS-CBN Corp to continue operations should its franchise lapse, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Thursday, noting that past issuances of temporary permits for other franchise applicants do not legitimize the practice.

This as he said the network's current predicament is "unfair."

"Klaro naman talaga sa jurisprudence na without a legislative franchise, hindi mag-iissue ng provisional permit ang NTC," the senator said in a press briefing. 

(It's clear under jurisprudence that without a legislative franchise, the National Telecommunications Commission can't issue a provisional permit.)

"Kung na-practice before, it will not be legalized kung wala sa batas. 'Yung practice does not make it legal," he said.

(If that's the practice before, it will not be legalized if not under the law. That practice does not make it legal.)

In the same breath, Lacson said the situation ABS-CBN and its 11,000 workers are facing is not fair: "It is really unfair to them. Hindi naman sila late nag-file ng application na translated into bills (They were not late in filing an application translated into bills. 

At least 11 bills seeking to give ABS-CBN a fresh 25-year franchise have been pending in the House of Representatives since July 2019 as the Committee on Legislative Franchises has refused to calendar the issue despite prodding from several lawmakers. 

The House earlier sent a letter to the NTC urging the agency to extend ABS-CBN's license to operate beyond its May 4, 2020 expiry as the chamber has yet to tackle the network's renewal bid.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, an administration ally, has said the matter was "not that urgent" and that he hoped to table the renewal bills in May. 

On Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte, who had earlier said he would oppose ABS-CBN's franchise renewal, accepted the apology the network made during a Senate hearing on Monday over a 2016 political ad that had offended him. 

"I don't know what NTC will do to legalize that (extension)," Lacson said.

"Kung walang magque-question [sa Supreme Court], fine. Hanggang walang nagque-question, fine... Makakapag-operate ang ABS-CBN, sabay-sabay pa tayong manonood ng 'Ang Probinsyano,'" he said.

(If no one will question that before the Supreme Court, fine. Until it is questioned, [that's] fine... ABS-CBN can still operate and we can still watch "Ang Probinsyano" together," said Lacson, referring to the long-running ABS-CBN primetime series. 

"Pero pagdating ng panahon may nag-question, Supreme Court pa din ang mag-i-interpret... 'Pag may nag-question, eh di ganun din," he said, referring to Solicitor General's pending quo warranto petition before the high court against the network.

(But when the time comes that it is questioned, the Supreme Court will be the one to interpret. When someone questions, it's going to be the same.) 

CONGRESSIONAL REMEDIES

Senators have been proposing legal remedies to extend ABS-CBN's franchise beyond May 4, 2020 as the House legislative franchise committee has yet to tackle the Philippines' largest media company's renewal bid just weeks before Congress goes on a 2-month break.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, for one, filed a joint resolution that seeks to extend ABS-CBN's current franchise until December 31, 2022, and a separate concurrent resolution expressing the chamber's sentiment urging the NTC to allow the network to operate beyond May 4.

Drilon's joint resolution may be "useless" because an earlier Supreme Court decision ruled that Congressional resolutions have no power to amend existing laws such as franchises, Lacson said.

"Ang concurrent resolution is just a sense of the Senate. Mas may force ang joint [resolution] pero because of the latest precedence, balewala na din 'yun," he said.

(The concurrent resolution is just a sense of the Senate. A joint resolution has more force but because of the latest precedence, that's now useless.)

"A resolution does not have the force and effect of the law," he said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III is also not keen on supporting Drilon's resolutions, Lacson said.

"If it is a useless piece of paper, at wala namang effect ng batas, alam naman namin na balewala 'yun. Magmumukha lang kami na parang nakakatawa naman na gagawa kami ng resolution eh illegal din yun," Lacson said.

(If it is a useless piece of paper, and it doesn't have the effect of a law, we know that's useless. We will just look silly to be making a resolution when that's also illegal.)

"Puwede pa 'yun kuwestiyunin sa Supreme Court, madadamay pa kami," he said.

(That could even be questioned at the Supreme Court, we will just be dragged into it.)

Sen. Bong Revilla, meanwhile, filed a bill seeking to prolong ABS-CBN's franchise until the end of December 2020 to give lawmakers more time to rule on its renewal bid.

Lacson said he would support Revilla's bill, but added that Congress should just simply renew ABS-CBN's franchise.

"Bakit ka pa magpapasa ng 2 years [extension] kung puwede ka namang magpasa ng 25 years? Ganun din naman ang dadaanan na proseso," he said.

(Why would we have to pass an extension of 2 years if we can pass one for 25 years? It will go through the same process.)

Under the Revised Corporation Code of the Philippines, companies facing closure are given 3 more years to exist before finally shutting down the company, but Lacson said this does not mean that ABS-CBN could continue to broadcast in the next 3 years.

"Ang corporation code mayroong winding up period na 3 years... pero 'yung 3 years na 'yun ay para sa pagbabayad ng utang, pagkokolekta ng dues at pagbabayad ng separation pay, but not to operate," he said.

(Under the corporation code, there's a winding up period of three years, but those three years are for payment of loans, collection of dues and payment of separation pay, but not to operate.)