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Duterte Hands Off on ABS-CBN Franchise Renewal, Says Roque

The Presidential Spokesperson says the Palace will adhere to NTC's decision.
by Clara Rosales
May 4, 2020
Photo/s: screencap from RTV Malacanang Press Briefing

 President Rodrigo Duterte will have no influence over the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) if it decides to grant ABS-CBN Corporation provisional authority (PA) to operate even after its franchise expired on May 4, the Palace said on Monday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said that the President knows NTC is a quasi-judicial body, and it has the sole authority to decide on the matter.

“Hindi naman pupwedeng maimpluwensiyahan ng ating Presidente ang NTC dahil sa batas, desisyon niya iyan. Desisyon ng komisyon iyan at hindi pwedeng pangunahan ng Presidente ang NTC pagdating sa isyung ito,” he said in a press briefing.

This comes after Solicitor General Jose Calida warned NTC commissioners on May 3 that they would face graft charges if they grant ABS-CBN a PA to operate while its franchise renewal is pending approval.

According to Roque, the Palace would follow NTC’s decision should it issue a PA to ABS-CBN.

“Kung ano man ang desisyon ng NTC, ipapatupad din po iyan ng buong gobyerno,” he said.

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NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba said on March 10 that it has agreed to issue a PA to ABS-CBN, heeding the opinion of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and taking into consideration the sentiments of both houses of Congress.

In a report, Cordoba quoted the DOJ and said “Based on the foregoing discussion, there is sufficient equitable basis to allow broadcast entities to continue operating while the bills for the renewal of their respective franchise remain pending with Congress.”

However, Calida countered both the DOJ and the Congress. He stated that DOJ opinion holds no weight in this matter, and that the request from Congress only echoes their sentiments, but does not grant NTC the power to issue PAs to broadcasting companies with an expired franchise.

DOJ Secretary Menardo Guevarra on May 4 said that broadcast companies can still operate while the bills for their franchise renewal are pending approval in Congress. Laws say those seeking to operate a radio or TV station must first obtain a legislative franchise, but there is no law that dictates the rights and obligations of a company or entity has been granted a legislative franchise and has been operational for several years already.

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This gap allows for an equitable solution. In this case, it would mean the NTC granting ABS-CBN a PA to operate while its franchise is pending approval in Congress. This is Guevarra’s opinion on the matter, and is not formal word from the DOJ.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez refuted Guevarra, and said, “An expired franchise can't be extended by a mere Joint Resolution by both houses. There should be a law granting a new franchise.”