Calida himself contradicts DOJ opinion, threatens NTC commissioners of prosecution
MANILA – (UPDATE) The Office of the Solicitor General on Sunday warned the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) against issuing provisional authorities to ABS-CBN Corp. and its affiliate, ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc., in the absence of a franchise from Congress.
Tomorrow, May 4, is the last day of ABS-CBN Corp.’s franchise while ABS-CBN Convergence’s franchise ended on March 17. The OSG’s move to prevent ABS-CBN from continuing its broadcast coincided with the celebration of World Press Freedom Day.
In a statement, Solicitor General Jose Calida said that “the Constitution gives Congress the exclusive power to grant franchises to public utilities, such as broadcasting companies, in order to operate in the country. Although this legislative power may be delegated to administrative agencies through a law, at present, there is no such law giving the NTC or any other agency the power to grant franchises to broadcasting entities.”
Efforts to renew ABS-CBN and Convergence’s franchise have stalled as Congress sought to hold hearings on alleged abuses by the media giant.
But no less than House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, chair of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, already sent a letter to NTC urging it to issue a provisional authority effective May 4, 2020.
The Senate, for its part, also passed a resolution expressing the sense of the chamber that it wants NTC to issue a provisional authority to the Lopez-owned network.
The House and the Senate’s move follows guidance from Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s opinion that there is basis for ABS-CBN to be given authority to continue operating while its franchise renewal is pending.
“There is sufficient equitable basis to allow broadcast entities to continue operating while the bills for the renewal of their respective franchise remain pending with Congress. However, a more stable legal environment could be created if Congress, by a concurrent resolution, would authorize the NTC to issue a provisional authority to these broadcasting companies…until Congress’ final disposition of their franchise renewal bills,” Guevarra said.
On this basis, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba told the House Committee on Legislative Franchises on March 10 that the NTC will issue a PA to ABS-CBN.
But Calida contradicted Guevarra’s position, insisting that a franchise must be secured first from Congress before the NTC can issue a Certificate of Public Convenience from the NTC.
“[A] PA should only be issued once a congressional franchise has been granted and an application for CPC is pending before the NTC for approval. The NTC cannot issue a PA when the broadcast company has no valid and existing legislative franchise,” he said.
“No less than the Constitution requires a prior franchise from Congress. Hence, when there is no renewal, the franchise expires by operation of law. The franchise ceases to exist and the entity can no longer continue its operations as a public utility,” he added.
Calida insisted the NTC cannot rely on either the Senate resolution, the House committee letter or on a DOJ opinion as legal basis for issuance of provisional authority.
He threatened NTC commissioners they may face prosecution under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act if they issue the provisional authority to ABS-CBN and Convergence.
The government on Sunday said it will continue to promote a free press.
"Without an open and free press, there will be an intellectual vacuum on public information and government programs and services, and there will be no dialogue on societal issues, public grievances, and government policies," said Palace communications Secretary Martin Andanar.
News.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.