SolGen, NTC can no longer refuse to answer questions on ABS-CBN franchise, says solon

Rose Carmelle Lacuata, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 23 2020 10:59 PM

MANILA - Minority congressmen "will be more direct" in questioning the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) after the Supreme Court threw out the OSG's quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN, a lawmaker said on Tuesday.

"Now, there's no more sub judice to invoke in the House hearings as far as the issues raised in the dismissed quo warranto petition are concerned," Agusan del Norte 1st District Rep. Lawrence Fortun, who supports granting ABS-CBN a fresh 25-year franchise, said in a statement.

"The Office of the Solicitor General or its representatives, the NTC and the (Securities and Exchange Commission) can no longer refuse to answer our questions on the ground of sub judice when they appear before Congress," he said.

Ruling that the issue was "moot and academic" since ABS-CBN's previous franchise expired on May 4, the SC, on Tuesday, dismissed Solicitor General Jose Calida's petition to nullify the franchise allegedly due to violations such as foreign ownership and illegal pay-per-view.

ABS-CBN has denied the allegations and maintained it has complied with existing laws and regulations.

With "no more sub judice to invoke," Fortun said, "all the more, the grounds raised to deny ABS-CBN the renewal of its franchise will be further exposed to be devoid of merit and should not be lent credence by Congress."

Fortun said "it would have been most welcome if the Supreme Court resolved the issues raised in the (quo warranto) petition and dismissed the action for lack of merit and not just because it has become moot and academic."

"We hope that shortly after this, the Supreme Court will resolve to void the NTC's cease and desist order and allow ABS-CBN to resume airing pending final resolution by Congress on its application for renewal or new franchise," he said.

The House Committees on Legislative Franchises and Good Government have been conducting joint hearings since May 26 on bills seeking to grant ABS-CBN a new franchise.

Appearing in the June 1 inquiry, Calida said he could not answer questions related to his pending case against ABS-CBN, citing the sub judice rule and his push for a gag order on all parties involved.

"We, in the House Minority, will be more direct in our questions in the days ahead on those opposed to the ABS-CBN franchise," Fortun said.

The hearings will resume on Monday, June 29, with ABS-CBN's alleged illegal pay-per-view on free TV, the use of multiple channels under one franchise, and claims of unfair labor practices on the agenda. 

The citizenship of ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Eugenio "Gabby" Lopez III, the issuance of Philippine Deposit Receipts (PDRs) by ABS-CBN Holdings, the 50-year franchise limit, and the network's reacquisition of its assets after the fall of the Marcos regime in 1986 have all been tackled in previous deliberations.

The NTC ordered ABS-CBN to halt its broadcast operations on May 5 despite committing to Congress in March it would issue the company a provisional authority to operate while lawmakers deliberate on bills for the network's new franchise.

ABS-CBN promptly complied with the order, which it later challenged before the SC. The petition for a TRO against the cease-and-desist order has yet to be resolved.

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