FALSE: ABS-CBN violated Constitution for being in airwaves for more than 50 years

Claim: ABS-CBN violated the 1987 Constitution because it has been in the airwaves longer than 50 years, despite a provision in the basic law that says Congress can grant franchises for 50 years only.

In the House committee hearing on May 26 that tackled the renewal of ABS-CBN's franchise, Sagip party list representative and House Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta listed the broadcast network's alleged violations, including the one concerning the length of its franchise.

"Hindi na po dapat payagan itong pagre-renew ng prangkisa ng ABS-CBN. Dapat na pong isara ang pinto para sa kanila. Bakit po? (We should not allow the renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN anymore. We should close the door on them. Why?) Because the ABS-CBN has been using the airwaves for more than 50 years. Fifty-three years today, to be exact. Our Constitution says that Congress can grant a franchise of up to 50 years only," Marcoleta said.

He used 1967 as ABS-CBN's start date, when the network first operated under its current name.

He further pointed out that even if the counter began in 1957 when Alto Broadcasting System (ABS) merged with Chronicle Broadcasting Network (CBN) – thus making it 63 years – then subtracting the 13 years when ABS-CBN was closed due to Martial Law, the network's franchise would still have run for 50 years already.

"Ibig pong sabihin, tapos na at paso pa rin ang prangkisa ng ABS-CBN, with or without Martial Law. Hindi ba't sobra-sobra pa rin ito, at lalabag sa Saligang Batas?" he asked. (This means, ABS-CBN's franchise has lapsed. It still would be in excess, and would violate the Constitution, right?)

Marcoleta further highlighted Article XII, Section 11 of the Constitution, which limits to 50 years the duration of a franchise for a public utility.

Marcoleta's claim was shared by some Facebook users. One example is the post below published on May 27 that was flagged by Facebook's Claim Check dashboard. That post was accompanied by a graphic featuring Marcoleta's exact quote related to the claim and a caption which expressed admiration for Marcoleta's statements.

Rating: FALSE

The facts: Law experts say Representative Marcoleta misinterpreted the provision in the Constitution for this claim.

Christian Monsod, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, said Marcoleta pointed to a wrong provision and read it wrong, too, reported ABS-CBN News on May 27.

Since the media is not a public utility, Monsod said what applies is Section 11 of Article XVI, which outlines the requirements for ownership and management of mass media. This provision does not impose a 50-year limit, he added.

Public utilities, said Monsod, are companies that provide "indispensable services to communities, like water and electricity." As such, the government has granted them "natural monopolies."

Lyceum of the Philippines dean Soledad Mawis also told ABS-CBN News on May 28 that the 50-year period is the maximum that Congress can set for a franchise at one time, and it can be renewed or extended. It would also be a disincentive for franchise holders, said Mawis, to have their operations shut down after 50 years because it "could no longer be given a franchise extension," if Marcoleta's claim holds.

Outside ABS-CBN's reporting, Cagayan de Oro City 2nd district representative Rufus Rodriguez told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on May 28 that every granted franchise can be renewed for another maximum period of 50 years when it expires, citing the practice in Congress. The 50-year cap, therefore, is not a cumulative one, he said.

ABS-CBN's precursor, ABS, had its first broadcast in 1953. Following the merger with CBN in 1957, the network was incorporated as ABS-CBN in 1967, then got a franchise under its new name in 1969. ABS-CBN got a new franchise, lasting for 25 years, in 1995. This last franchise expired on May 4, 2020, after the bill for its renewal languished in the House of Representatives. – Rappler.com

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