DOJ says NTC ‘not legally compelled’ to grant provisional authority to operate
MANILA (UPDATE) - It might be illegal for the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to issue provisional authority for ABS-CBN Corp to operate beyond the expiry of its franchise in May, Malacañang said Friday.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s chief legal counsel and spokesman Salvador Panelo explained that the NTC cannot grant provisional authority to operate once the network’s license to operate lapses since there is no valid franchise anymore.
“A provisional authority cannot be legal because the NTC cannot give provisional authority if there is no franchise,” he told reporters in Malacañang.
“If the franchise expires, then there is nothing to give provisional authority for an extension. If they do that, that might be most likely subject to constitutional question before the Supreme Court,” Panelo added.
The Senate earlier this week adopted a resolution after a hearing, expressing the chamber's belief that ABS-CBN should continue to operate while Congress deliberates its franchise renewal bid.
The House panel on legislative franchises, meanwhile, asked the NTC to issue the media giant a "provisional" permit to operate past its franchise expiration on May 4.
Instead of urging the NTC to grant the media network provisional authority to operate, Panelo said Congress should pass a measure that would address the issue.
“If they are so minded as to giving provisional authority to ABS-CBN, why they don’t pass a bill [that gives] such provisional authority while they will discuss the very merits of case?” he said.
“To put an end to any question on the legality and constitutionality, pass a bill, make it into law, grant them provisional authority,” he said.
But a lawmaker said Panelo's statements won't stop Congress deliberating the broadcast company's franchise renewal.
"We maintain our position that the NTC should issue the Provisional Authority to ABS-CBN pending the deliberation of the said ABS-CBN application," Isabela 1st District Rep. Antonio Albano, vice-chair of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, said in a statement.
According to Albano, such an authority "is like issuing a temporary driver's license when your license has expired, pending the rejection or issuance of a new driver's license."
He said that Rep. Franz Alvarez, chair of the same House committee, has sent a notice to the NTC for the granting of the said provisional authority, which Albano said "should be honored by all."
"The Constitution clearly states that Congress has the power to grant or take away franchises," Albano said.
"The [Department of Justice] has made a legal opinion in the Senate hearing that Congress can ask NTC to issue a Provisional Authority for ABS-CBN, and that ABS-CBN will not close.
"Therefore, we in Congress are exercising our Congressional powers to ask NTC to issue a Provisional Authority while we are hearing the case of ABS-CBN, and let them operate beyond May 4, 2020, while we deliberate on the bill."
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra meanwhile said the NTC is not “legally compelled” to adhere to lawmakers’ requests regarding the TV network’s franchise.
Guevarra on Friday said letters sent by the Senate and the House on the issue “cannot be construed as direct orders of the legislature that the NTC is legally compelled to obey.”
“No one ever said that a resolution can replace a full-fledged franchise law,” he said.
“Here we are talking about a vacuum that arises when a franchise expires and the Congress has yet to act on the franchise renewal bill.”
Guevarra made the remark after a once-suspended lawyer questioned the NTC’s authority to grant ABS-CBN provisional authority to operate.
Lawyer Larry Gadon argued that the NTC has no authority nor jurisdiction to issue a permit to operate when ABS-CBN’s franchise expires on May 4 this year since its functions are “merely regulatory and supervisory.”
“In any event, the DOJ welcomes the filing of the petition as it presents a very interesting question of law,” Guevarra said.
In an earlier guidance issued to NTC, Guevarra said Congress may allow the commission to issue broadcast companies provisional authority to operate pending franchise renewal, saying this was "equitable practice" as it had been previously allowed.
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said on Wednesday the House of Representatives will start on March 10 its hearings on bills seeking a new franchise for ABS-CBN.
Cayetano made the announcement days after the President accepted ABS-CBN’s apology over advertisements during the 2016 campaign period but clarified that the company’s franchise would depend on Congress.
Congress has sessions until March 11 before lawmakers go on break until May 3. ABS-CBN’s franchise expires on May 4.
news.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.
-- with a report from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News