ABS-CBN in 'legal limbo' if it operates with expired franchise: solon

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 26 2020 01:06 PM | Updated as of Feb 26 2020 02:41 PM

Supporters of ABS-CBN, the country's top broadcast network, hold a rally against the Philippine government's move to scrap its franchises, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, February 10, 2020. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

MANILA — ABS-CBN will be in "legal limbo" if it continues operating after its broadcast franchise expires in May, a lawmaker said Wednesday as he urged colleagues to tackle several bills seeking the license renewal of the country's largest media and entertainment company.

Under the law, "no person shall commence or conduct the business of being a public telecommunications entity without first obtaining a franchise," noted Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman. 

"Since the prevailing rule is 'no franchise, no operation', inveigling ABS-CBN to continue operation with an expired franchise is pushing it to a legal limbo fraught with possible lawsuits," he said in a statement. 

A franchise is deemed extended as long as there is a pending bill for its renewal, both Senate President Vicente Sotto and House legislative franchise committee vice chairperson Isabela Rep. Tonypet Albano earlier said. 

Sen. Grace Poe, who led a hearing on ABS-CBN's compliance with its franchise said a "cure" would be a concurrent resolution from both chambers of Congress urging the National Telecommunications Commission to extend the network's existing license until a new one is decided on.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, whose chamber has yet to tackle several bills seeking ABS-CBN's franchise renewal, said the network could operate until 2022, the end of the term of the 18th Congress.

Hearings into the network's franchise renewal bills "will suck all the energy of the 18th Congress" because lawmakers will want to air their stance, he said. 

The House leadership "cannot claim that it is overwhelmed or besieged by pending priority bill" because Congress identified only 4 of such, based on President Rodrigo Duterte's last State of the Nation Address, said Lagman. 

Of these measures, 2 were passed into law, including the fifth tranche of pay increases for state workers and the postponement of the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections to 2022, he noted. 

Lagman also questioned Cayetano's remark that the House might have to wait until May or after the next SONA in July to schedule hearings on ABS-CBN's franchise. 

The issue "can be deliberated and approved within the next 6 session days before the Congress adjourns from March 14 to May 3 for the Lenten break," said Lagman. 

"Since the House is not preoccupied with major measures, its plenary sessions are currently devoted to privilege speeches and approval of local and private bills and some general bills many of which have little national consequence," he added. 

HOUSE 'DOING BEST' 

Lagman, an independent congressman, "has no knowledge of the work load that the majority congress people have in the committee levels and the calendared plenary activities," said Isabela 1st District Rep. Antonio Albano, vice-chair of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises. 

"We are doing our best to calendar all important bills, including the ABS-CBN franchise bill," said Albano. 

"We need to prioritize all our work since we in the majority are already spreading ourselves thinly with the amount of work that we have," he added. 

Albano urged supporters of the ABS-CBN franchise bills to be "as enthusiastic" for legislative solutions on the novel coronavirus outbreak, swine flu cases and Taal Volcano eruption. 

The lawmaker added that the delay in ABS-CBN's license "is due to its own fault for having erred for which their management has already acknowledged recently." 

ABS-CBN president Carlo Katigbak in a Senate hearing on Monday apologized “if we offended the president,” when it aired a 2016 ad against Duterte. Katigbak said the network was “just abiding by the laws and regulations that surround the airing of political ads.” 

The network regularly paid taxes and was not facing any complaint or investigation, officials of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Securities and Exchange Commission said in the same Senate committee hearing. 

ABS-CBN is also facing a challenge lodged before the Supreme Court by Solicitor General Jose Calida. The government's lead lawyer sought to nullify the franchise due to alleged abuses like illegal pay-per-view offering and foreign ownership. 

The network, which reaches millions of Filipinos through its television, radio and online platforms, said it "did not violate the law" in its 65-year service. 

 
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