MANILA (UPDATE)- ABS-CBN Corp. will be allowed to operate after its broadcast franchise expires on May 4, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) told lawmakers on Tuesday, providing temporary relief for the embattled media giant amid fears of impending closure.
Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba said the NTC would issue a provisional authority for ABS-CBN, as requested in a letter by the House of Representatives' committee on legislative franchises.
“May I assure this committee that barring a gross violation of its franchise of the NTC rules and regulations, the NTC will follow the latest advice of the DOJ (Department of Justice) and let ABS-CBN continue operations based on equity,” Cordoba told a committee hearing, which focused largely on setting ground rules for the ABS-CBN franchise bills hearings.
Aside from the letter signed also by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, the Senate came out with a resolution asking the NTC to allow ABS-CBN to operate as Congress continues to deliberate on bills seeking to grant it a fresh 25-year franchise.
“We are comforted by the fact that both chambers of Congress are aligned with the DOJ and the NTC’s take on the issue,” Cordoba said.
Cordoba cited a DOJ opinion saying “there’s sufficient equitable basis to allow broadcast entities to continue operating” pending congressional decision on franchise applications.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra had cited also the need for a “more stable legal environment,” which Congress could create in the form of a concurrent resolution authorizing the NTC to issue a provisional authority.
The House was not imposing any condition on the provisional authority, Cayetano told reporters after the hearing.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the authors of the pending ABS-CBN franchise bills, said the planned NTC issuance was “standing on unstable and untenable grounds.”
He cited a 1995 law saying that “no person shall commence or conduct the business of being a public telecommunications entity without first obtaining a franchise.”
“So, an applicant which does not have a valid and existing franchise or (is operating with) an expired franchise, cannot be granted provisional authority by the NTC,” said Lagman, who earlier insisted that Congress had enough time to grant ABS-CBN an actual franchise.
Cordoba declined to respond to Lagman’s question, saying the issue is pending before the Supreme Court.
Solicitor General Jose Calida earlier filed a petition to close down ABS-CBN over alleged violations of its existing franchise. The media company has denied the accusations.
Lorenzo "Larry" Gadon, a lawyer who sought the removal of former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, later filed another petition at the SC questioning the House letter as basis for the NTC to grant ABS-CBN a temporary permit.
The legislative franchises committee on Tuesday adopted the letter as representative of its members’ position, then secured a commitment from the NTC that it would grant a provisional authority.
“Siyempre, 'pag sinabi ng Supreme Court na bawal yung ginawa ng Congress, ibang usapan yun (Of course, if the Supreme Court says that what Congress did is not allowed, then that's another matter),” Cayetano said.
“But until that point in time, Atty. Gadon has one opinion in 110 million Filipinos and we don’t share his opinion.”