NTC backs bill seeking non-expiration of franchises amid ABS-CBN woes

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 27) — The National Telecommunications Commission is in favor of the passage of a Senate bill pushing for the non-expiration of legislative franchises with pending applications for renewal.

This comes despite the NTC's cease-and-desist order that led to the shutdown of broadcast giant ABS-CBN following issues surrounding its franchise renewal.

Senate Bill 1530, filed by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, seeks to amend Section 18, Book VII, Chapter 3 of the Revised Administrative Code. This provides for the non-expiration of a license if the licensee has filed a timely and sufficient application for renewal until a final determination by the agency is made.

Drilon noted that the provision will cover the franchises granted by Congress, as inaction on any application does not equate to its denial.

"Malaking bagay para ma-fix yung gap sa batas para kapag may pending matters, ito (franchise) ay ma-consider na buhay pa," NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba said during the virtual hearing of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes led by Senator Francis Pangilinan.

[Translation: It's a big help to fix the gap in the law because if there are pending matters, the franchise would still be considered active.]

Cordoba cited Republic Act 3846 or the Radio Control Law, which states that "no person, firm, company, association, or corporation shall construct, install, establish, or operate a radio transmitting station, or radio receiving station used for commercial purposes, or a radio broadcasting station, without having first obtained a franchise therefor from the Congress of the Philippines.”

NTC: SolGen quo warranto made ABS-CBN's case untenable

Cordoba, however, admitted before the Senate panel that the agency previously allowed other expiring franchises to resume operations amid pending renewal in Congress.

"We never issued a provisional license to any broadcaster while their franchise was pending in Congress. What happened was we just allowed them to continue operating," he said.

It added that what made ABS-CBN's case different was the quo warranto petition previously lodged by Solicitor General Jose Calida.

"Kaya po medyo naging (that is why it was) untenable on our part to let it continue because of the clear letter of the law in RA 3846," Cordoba said.

In his petition before the Supreme Court, Calida claimed that the network committed violations in the terms set by Congress when it approved ABS-CBN's franchise in 1995.

Retired Supreme Court Senior Justice Antonio Carpio, who was present in the hearing, noted that Senate bill will address discrimination surrounding franchise issues.

"It's clear that there is unequal protection of the law. There is discrimination. I believe this bill will correct that as soon as possible," Carpio said.

Drilon's bill was only filed more than a week after NTC ordered ABS-CBN's shutdown.

The NTC previously assured that it will still grant a provisional authority to the network after its 25-year franchise expired on May 4, pending Congressional decision on its renewal.

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly berated ABS-CBN over some unaired political ads during his 2016 campaign, even going as far as saying that he will make sure the network is out this year. His spokesman Harry Roque, however, insisted that Duterte is "neutral" to the issue.