Despite resolutions from Congress, the National Telecommunications Commission may not issue a provisional authority for ABS-CBN to operate after its franchise lapses in May, Malacañang said on Friday.
“The provisional authority cannot be legal because NTC cannot give provisional authority if there is no franchise. If the franchise expires, then there is nothing to give provisional authority for an extension,” presidential spokesman and chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo said.
“There is already a Supreme Court decision. You cannot grant provisional authority if there is no franchise,” he added.
The Palace opinion dovetails with that of lawyer Larry Gadon, who asked the high court on Thursday to stop the government from granting ABS-CBN a provisional authority without a measure passed by Congress renewing the television network’s franchise.
But Panelo said Congress may pass a measure giving ABS-CBN a temporary permit pending a decision on its franchise renewal application.
“I think they can do it and they say they can do it,” Panelo said.
Earlier, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the issuances made by both the House of Representatives and the Senate asking the NTC to grant a provisional permit to ABS-CBN were not direct orders to the commission.
Guevarra made his statement even as an opposition lawmaker said the country’s leading news and entertainment company was being taken hostage by the House leadership to ensure it would be neutral in the 2022 elections.
Speaking to ANC’s “Early Edition,” Rep. Edcel Lagman said the foot-dragging on the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN Corp., which is set to expire on May 4, was meant to tie the network’s hands.
“The more this renewal pends, the more ABS-CBN will be a docile hostage waiting for the renewal of its franchise. I hope it does not become such a hostage but apparently, realities would show that the
hands of ABS-CBN are tied,” he said.
Guevarra said the issuances “cannot be construed as direct orders of the legislature that the NTC is legally compelled to obey.”
The House committee on legislative franchises has sent a letter, and the Senate a resolution, seeking to allow ABS-CBN to continue operations through the issuance of a provisional authority from the NTC starting May 4, the expiry of the giant network’s franchise, and pending congressional action on its franchise renewal application.
However, the House committee’s letter to NTC has already been questioned before the Supreme Court by Gadon, who claims the agency cannot issue permits to networks without a legislative franchise.
Guevarra said the House issuance and the Senate resolution were not legal orders compelling the NTC to do so.
“In any event, the DOJ [Department of Justice] welcomes the filing of the petition as it presents a very interesting question of law,” Guevarra said in a message to reporters.
Last week, Guevarra took the position that Congress, through a concurrent resolution, may authorize the NTC to grant ABS-CBN and other similarly situated entities a provisional authority to operate. This was also the gist of his “guidance” to the NTC on the matter.
The Justice chief said a concurrent resolution from Congress will provide a legal basis to an existing practice, in which franchise holders are allowed to continue operating if their licenses expire without Congress having decided their applications for renewal.
However, Gadon said Congress should tackle the pending ABS-CBN franchise renewal bills instead of asking the NTC to issue a provisional authority to operate.
He said a franchise, being a law, could not be replaced with a resolution.
“No one ever said that a resolution can replace a full-fledged franchise law,” Guevarra said.
“Here we are talking about a vacuum that arises when a franchise expires and the Congress has yet to act on the franchise renewal bill.”