MANILA - A law dean on Thursday said House Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta had misinterpreted the 50-year cap on legislative franchises that Congress may grant, among arguments he presented at the House of Representatives on Tuesday in opposing broadcast operations of ABS-CBN Corp.
“I was bit surprised, especially the position taken by the good congressman that the franchise cannot be extended for another 50 years. I don’t think that would be the right interpretation of Section 11 of Art. 12 of the Constitution,” said Soledad Mawis, dean of the Lyceum of the Philippines College of Law.
On ANC’s Headstart, Mawis said the 50-year franchise period in the Constitution is the maximum that can be granted by Congress at one time, and there is no law prohibiting a company from being granted an extension or renewal of their franchise.
“Kaya hindi ko masundan 'yung logic lalo na kunwari po is it the spirit of the Constitution to discourage a franchise holder to do better or to be the best so that when it applies for a renewal mabibigyan? Wala naman pong sinasabi doon ang Constitution na hanggang diyan lang 'yan at hindi puwedeng bigyan ng panibagong prangkisa,” she said.
(That's why I cannot follow the logic especially, for instance, is it the spirit of the Constitution to discourage a franchise holder to do better or be the best so that when it applies for a renewal, it can get one? The Constitution does not say that's the end of it and that a new franchise cannot be given.)
Mawis said Marcoleta’s interpretation becomes a disincentive for a company.
If the lawmaker's take would be followed, it means a firm that has been performing well and running operations properly could no longer be given a franchise extension after 50 years.
Several others, even Marcoleta's colleagues in the House, had said the lawmaker's understanding of the 50-year franchise limit was wrong, citing other broadcast firms operating beyond that length of time.
ABS-CBN was forced to halt its broadcast operations on May 5 after the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) went back on its commitment to allow ABS-CBN to operate beyond its lapsed franchise.
On Monday, the House committees on legislative franchises and good government and accountability started hearings on bills seeking to give ABS-CBN a fresh broadcast franchise.
The network, which has some 11,000 workers, has asked the Supreme Court to block the NTC's cease-and-desist order. The high court ordered the telecoms body and both chambers of Congress to respond to the ABS-CBN's petition.
The Kapamilya network said it "has not committed any violation" of its franchise that would merit its non-renewal or the suspension of its broadcast operations.
On Thursday's interview, Mawis also questioned claims on ABS-CBN’s alleged violation of balanced and responsible reporting.
“Is it material to the renewal of the franchise? That’s my question. Are they supposed to dictate to us, to you, for example, what to air? Is it also not part of your freedom of speech and expression to air what you think is right or not right? So if we go to the content, that’s very subjective,” she said.
Mawis also questioned the timing of ACT-CIS Rep. Eric Yap's statements raising issues against the network for its reportage on drug allegations against Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte, the President's son.
“Why just now? Why wait for this time when your company is on the brink of closing? Why not before? It’s political in nature. I’m not saying they cannot raise it now because they can for purposes of deciding the renewal of the franchise. It’s just a question of why now after so many years,” she said, referring to the allegations that surfaced in 2017.
“If, for example, the good congressman Duterte felt that he was slighted at that time, then he could have availed of remedies under the law,” she said.
Mawis also asserted that the shutdown of ABS-CBN is a press freedom issue.
“Hindi ko makuha 'yung line of thinking na OK walang issue naman ng freedom of expression o freedom of the press kasi itong isa puwede naman niyang gawin. Hindi po natin pinag-uusapan 'yung puwedeng gawin nung isa. Ang pinag-uusapan natin bakit itong isa na ito hindi ho niya puwedeng gawin 'yung ginagawa nung iba,” she said.
(I don't get the line of thinking that OK there's no freedom of expression or freedom of the press issue here because another one can do what [ABS-CBN] has been doing. We're not talking about what another one can do. We're talking about why this one can't do what the others are doing.)