ABS-CBN cannot operate without a franchise – ex-Chief Justice

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Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno cites the high court’s 2003 decision, which stated that there is a need for an existing license before a corporation can operate. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 25)— Even with Congress’ order for a temporary license, media giant ABS-CBN will still not be able to continue operations once its franchise lapses in May, a former top official of the Supreme Court said Tuesday.

Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno refuted Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s claim that lawmakers— through a joint resolution— can authorize the National Telecommunications Commission to grant provisional authority pending legislative action on the network’s franchise renewal.

Speaking to CNN Philippines’ The Source, Puno cited the high court’s 2003 decision (Associated Communications & Wireless Services versus NTC) which stated that there is a need for an existing license before a corporation can operate.

“We were unanimous in holding that there is need for a franchise before the NTC can grant a provisional permit. Without a franchise, the television station concerned has to cease operations,” Puno said of the decision which he penned.

The former top magistrate likewise referred to Republic Act No. 7925 or the Public Telecommunications Policy Act of the Philippines, a measure which specifies the roles of the NTC.

“They (ABS-CBN) cannot (operate) because of that decision by the Supreme Court and the laws we have, particularly R.A. 7925,” Puno added.

Section 16 of the R.A. 7925 states that “no person shall commence or conduct the business of being a public telecommunications entity without first obtaining a franchise.”

Guevarra, in response, said it won't be fair for to close down ABS-CBN if violations are not proven. In a message to CNN Philippines, he maintained Congress has the power to do such move pending action on the renewal measures.

'Mere tolerance for other companies, networks'

Guevarra, during Monday’s Senate inquiry into ABS-CBN’s franchise issues, bared the upper chamber and the House of Representatives can file the concurrent resolution prior to the network’s license expiry date on May 4.

But even without the Congress’ move, the Justice chief said ABS-CBN should still be allowed to operate, given that some companies— including the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines— with expired licenses were able to do so in the past.

Puno took a swipe at the fact, saying the practice of granting permits should not be sustained.

“That is by mere tolerance by mere practice. That practice cannot be sustained if you have a decision of the Supreme Court, and you have a law saying that you need to have a franchise,” Puno stressed.

ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal was highlighted earlier this month following the quo warranto petition of Solicitor General Jose Calida. Calida had cited “highly abusive” practices by the network—including foreign ownership and operational issues— allegations that ABS-CBN itself had debunked.

Some lawmakers earlier allayed concerns over ABS-CBN’s looming shutdown, saying the media company can still broadcast news and content as there are pending renewal measures in Congress.

A total of eleven measures remain pending before the lower chamber, which just started its proceedings on the case on Monday.

READ: House panel asks for position papers on ABS-CBN franchise issue as case proceedings start

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.