MANILA - It is "highly irregular" to shut down a major network during the coronavirus crisis when information dissemination is crucial, a Senate leader said Monday, a day after the government's top lawyer threatened National Telecommunications Commission officials with prosecution if they grant ABS-CBN Corp. a provisional authority.
The Senate will "remind" the NTC in the coming days "of their commitment to issue provisional authority for ABS-CBN," Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said when asked for a reaction on Solicitor General Jose Calida's claim that the NTC is unauthorized to extend the media network's license to operate.
"At this point in time, when there is a need for information... If we will shut down a major network, that is highly irregular," Zubiri told reporters in an online press conference.
"Dapat tuloy-tuloy lang ang major networks sa pagbibigay nila ng impormasyon, (Major networks should be allowed to continuously provide information) unless they violated a provision in their franchise," he said.
"If this happened to GMA, TV5, IBC, we will do the same in fighting for your rights to operate," he said, referring to other major broadcast firms in the Philippines.
Calida earlier insisted the NTC "cannot issue a provisional authority when the company has no valid or existing legislative franchise."
ABS-CBN's franchise is supposed to expire on May 4, 2020, but the NTC earlier said that all broadcast franchises that would expire "within the quarantine period shall automatically be renewed and shall continue to be valid 60 days after the end of the government-imposed quarantine period."
President Rodrigo Duterte had extended the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and other areas until May 15, 2020.
"There is no reason why the NTC should not grant a provisional authority to ABS-CBN," Zubiri said, adding that other media companies have been allowed to operate past the expiration dates of their franchises.
"I see no legal impediment for ABS-CBN to continue its operations... As far as I am concerned, [ABS-CBN will] continue operations while waiting for NTC to grant provisional authority," he said.
"Nagpasa na po ng resolution ang Senado. That is very explicit that the House and the Senate approve the giving of provisional authority [for ABS-CBN]," he said, noting that only Congress, and not the Office of the Solicitor General, has the power to grant or revoke franchises.
ABS-CBN's franchise renewal bid has been pending in Congress since 2014, and the House Committee on Legislative Franchises has yet to act on several bills seeking to give the Philippines' top media company a fresh 25-year mandate.
Calida had also questioned the validity of ABS-CBN's franchise before the Supreme Court, arguing that it should be declared null and void for allegedly offering illegal pay-per-view options, and its supposed violation of the foreign ownership clause in the Constitution.
ABS-CBN denied the Solicitor General's allegations in a Senate investigation in February, and answered the franchise challenge before the high court in March.
The Supreme Court was supposed to tackle Calida's quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN on March 10, 2020, but the hearing was postponed.
News.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.