DOJ asked to weigh in if ABS-CBN can continue operating after March 30

Lian Buan
DOJ asked to weigh in if ABS-CBN can continue operating after March 30
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra says they hope to respond to the National Telecommunications Commission by next week

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) was asked to weigh in on whether ABS-CBN can continue operating after its franchise lapses on March 30 and congressional hearings are still pending.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) is seeking their legal opinion, as the network’s franchise is near expiration and bills seeking to renew it are still pending in Congress.

There is also a quo warranto petition pending before the Supreme Court that seeks to void ABS-CBN’s franchise. (READ: EXPLAINER: Legal points in Calida’s quo warranto vs ABS-CBN)

Government agencies typically seek legal opinions of the DOJ and the government’s other legal firms if they need clarification. While opinions are non-binding, they carry weight.

“The main question is whether or not ABS-CBN may continue operating after the lapse of the franchise period, pending action by the Congress on the franchise renewal bills,” Guevarra told reporters.

A request for legal opinion is not automatically approved. 

Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said the request is now being evaluated by the DOJ’s legal staff unit.

“We got it last Tuesday afternoon (February 18) and we hope to reply by next week,” said Guevarra.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano earlier said ABS-CBN would not have to shut down after March even if no law has been passed renewing its franchise.

Cayetano said ABS-CBN could secure provisional authority to operate from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), while the 18th Congress has not adjourned sine die.

“Kasi po ang ABS-CBN, hindi po magsasara. Mayroon po tayong ugnayan sa NTC na gagawin habang naghi-hearing kami or habang pending sa amin, [para] hindi magsasara,” the Speaker said.

(ABS-CBN will not shut down. We will have talks with the NTC while we are holding the hearings or while the bill is pending with us, so that the network will not have to close.)

In 2018, Guevarra penned a legal opinion for the NTC saying that TV broadcasters can offer pay-per-view services. This is ABS-CBN’s defense so far in the allegation by Solicitor General Jose Calida that its pay-per-view movie channel Kapamilya Box Office violated the terms of its franchise.

Calida, however, is citing a 2019 NTC order reiterating that ABS-CBN must “refrain” from offering pay-per-view services. – with a report from Mara Cepeda/Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.