DOJ: Congress may authorize NTC to grant ABS-CBN provisional permit

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told the Senate on Monday, February 24, that Congress may authorize the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to give ABS-CBN the provisional permit to continue operating after the lapse of its franchise.

"It is therefore respectfully submitted that the Congress, by a concurrent resolution, may authorize the National Telecommunications Commission to issue a provisional authority subject to such terms and conditions as the NTC may deem fit to ABS-CBN and other entities similarly situated," Guevarra told the Senate committee on public services chaired by Senator Grace Poe.

Guevarra made the statement ahead of the issuance of a legal opinion by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to the NTC on the issue and as the Senate began looking into the terms of the ABS-CBN franchise which President Rodrigo Duterte wants scrapped.

Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said "it is possible" that the legal opinion may have more content than Guevarra's statement to the Senate. 

Guevarra also clarified that ABS-CBN's franchise actually expires on May 4 and not March 30.

While Republic Act No. 77966 or the law that gave ABS-CBN its franchise was enacted March 30, 1995, it was published only on April 19 and took effect 15 days later or May 4.

Can NTC take away its provisional authority by itself? 

NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba said that should Congress give the go signal to a provisional authority, the commission can withdraw it by itself.

"If there are violations of the conditions, we should be able to withdraw the provisional authority," said Cordoba. 

Opposition Senator Franklin Drilon raised this matter because he was concerned that it wouldn't be much of an assurance for ABS-CBN if an administrative agency like the NTC can withdraw a temporary permit anytime.

Drilon asked Cordoba if he would agree that Congress should just give ABS-CBN a temporary franchise lasting for 3 years.

"So at the very least, ABS-CBN can operate independently without the sword of Damocles of the NTC threatening to withdraw the temporary authority anytime?" Drilon said.

It is Drilon's position that if Congress, by its sovereign power, grant a 3-year temporary franchise, then it would be something that the NTC cannot take away because it would have come from the legislature, which is mandated to issue franchises.

"We subject to the wisdom of Congress," said Cordoba.

"I notice you are avoiding to answer the question," said Drilon.

On the question of Senator Francis Pangilinan, Cordoba said they have never before withdrawn a provisional authority to a franchise grantee.

What the House intends to do 

On Monday, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano continued to insist that even if the House of Representatives does not hold hearings on ABS-CBN's franchise renewal, the network does not have to close because the House is currently in talks with the NTC. 

"The reality is, kung gustong isara, eh 'di isang hearing, deny, sarado 'yan. Or 'wag i-hear, sabihin sa NTC isarado," Cayetano said in a chance interview in Batasang Pambansa. 

(The reality is, if we wanted to shut it down, we would hold one hearing, deny it, and then it would have to close. Or we wouldn't even hold a hearing and just tell NTC to shut them down.)

"Why would we talk to you with forked tongues? What do we have to gain to lie to you? So no’ng sinabi naming 'di magsasara, 'yan ang paninindigan namin. Kung kailangan physically ako ang mag-on ng transmitter or pumunta doon, gagawin ko 'yan. Gagawin ni [House committee on legislative franchises] chairman Chikoy [Alvarez] 'yon," he added.  

(Why would we talk to you with forked tongues? What do we have to gain to lie to you? So when we said we wouldn't have it shut down, we would stand by that statement. If I would need to physically go there and turn the transmitter on myself, I'd do it. House committee on legislative franchises chairman Chikoy Alvarez would do it too.)

The House legislative franchises formally started proceedings on the ABS-CBN franchise bills filed in the lower chamber on Monday morning by asking all stakeholders to submit their position papers to the panel. 

But the House leadership is still bent on holding a hearing only in May or early August – when ABS-CBN's franchise shall have expired.  with a report from Mara Cepeda/Rappler.com

STORIES FROM THE FEBRUARY 24 SENATE HEARING: 

 

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.

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