DOJ maintains broadcast outlets can continue ops pending franchise renewal

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 04 2020 01:48 PM

ABS-CBN employees hold a candle march around the ABS-CBN Compound in Quezon City on Feb. 21, 2020. Angie de Silva, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Broadcast outlets can stay open while bills for their franchise renewal languish in Congress, the Department of Justice said Monday after the government's top lawyer made another move to block the operations of ABS-CBN Corp. 

"The DOJ stands by its position that there is sufficient equitable basis to allow broadcast entities to continue operating while the bills for the RENEWAL of their franchise remain pending with Congress," Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said in a statement.

The Office of the Solicitor General on Sunday warned the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) against issuing provisional authorities to the country's largest media network and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence Inc., while lawmakers have yet to tackle the renewal of their franchise, set to expire May 4. 

"While existing laws provide that a person who wishes to operate a radio/TV station must first obtain a legislative franchise and thereafter a license to operate from the NTC, there is NO LAW that governs the rights and obligations of a person or entity who has ALREADY BEEN GRANTED a legislative franchise and has fully operated for many years, has applied for the renewal of its franchise long before the expiration thereof, but for reasons not attributable to said person or entity, the legislature has not yet acted on the renewal of said franchise," Guevarra said. 

Congress, in several previous instances, allowed the status quo without urging the NTC to issue a provisional permit, in consideration of the equities of the situation, he added.

The NTC earlier issued a memorandum allowing the automatic renewal of expiring permits of broadcast and pay-TV facilities during the enhanced community quarantine of Metro Manila and other high-risk areas to stop the pandemic.

The agency in March also said it would issue a provisional authority to allow ABS-CBN and its subsidiaries to operate until June 2022.

ABS-CBN is facing a quo warranto challenge lodged before the Supreme Court by Solicitor General Jose Calida. The government's lead lawyer is seeking to nullify ABS-CBN's current franchise due to alleged abuses like illegal pay-per-view offering and foreign ownership.

The network, which reaches millions of Filipinos through its television, radio and online platforms, said it has not violated the law in its 65-year service.

A 2003 Supreme Court ruling that stopped the operations of a media outlet even if it secured an NTC permit "does not apply" to ABS-CBN, said Guevarra. 

The subject of the ruling, Associated Communications & Wireless Services-United Broadcasting Networks (ACWS), "did not even have an original franchise to begin with." ABS-CBN has "a franchise and a license to operate, albeit subject to further deliberations for its renewal," Guevarra said.

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