Senate OKs reso 'expressing' approval for ABS-CBN ops pending franchise decision

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 04 2020 04:59 PM | Updated as of Mar 04 2020 06:00 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - The Senate on Wednesday adopted a resolution expressing the chamber's belief that ABS-CBN and its two sister companies should continue to operate while Congress deliberates its franchise renewal bid.

But while the resolution backs the continued operation of ABS-CBN Corp, ABS-CBN Convergence, and SkyCable pending a final decision on a new franchise, it does not effectively extend the companies' license to operate, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon told his colleagues.

"We are not extending the franchise. We are just reiterating what happened in the past where NTC (National Telecommunications Commission) allowed others to operate even if their franchise was expired," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said there was no reason for NTC not to issue a provisional authority for ABS-CBN as it has been "standard practice" to let broadcast networks operate while their franchise bills are still pending in Congress. 

"It is within the boundaries of these regulatory bodies," Zubiri said, citing previous cases where regulatory agencies issued temporary permits for companies with licenses still pending in the legislative branch.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the NTC granted temporary permits to 338 companies in 2015, 471 in 2016, 259 in 2017, 155 in 2018, and 300 in 2019.

"ABS-CBN deserves an authority to operate while their franchise approval is pending," Sotto said.

The chamber had to craft the measure to "provide some legal degree of stability" for the NTC as earlier recommended by Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra, said Drilon.

When asked if the resolution can stand if questioned in court, Drilon said it will be a "matter left to the judiciary."

"This has a precedent in past practices in previous congresses. Whether or not the court will consider that as sufficient to allow ABS-CBN to continue to operate, it's a matter addressed to the court," he said.

The measure has been described as a band-aid solution to avoid the closure of the Philippines' largest media and entertainment company while the House has yet to tackle 11 bills seeking a fresh 25-year franchise for ABS-CBN.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who earlier said that the ABS-CBN franchise bills were "not that urgent," announced Wednesday that the House Committee on Legislative Franchises will tackle the bills on March 10, 2020, two days before Congress goes on a two-month break.

The current franchise of ABS-CBN Corp expires on May 4.