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NTC Opposes Possible ‘Hold-Over Franchise’ For ABS-CBN

NTC Opposes Possible ‘Hold-Over Franchise’ For ABS-CBN

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has opposed a new bill in the House of Representatives that seeks to allow ABS-CBN Corp. to return to air via a “hold-over franchise” once its refiles application for renewal of franchise.

The NTC, in a position paper filed with the committee on legislative franchises last Jan. 3 through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), raised strong objection to House Bill 7923 filed by Parañaque City Rep. Joy Myra Tambunting, which seeks to amend Section 18, Book VII, Chapter 3 of the Administrative Code of the Philippines and allow applicants of legislative franchise to operate pending approval by Congress.

Solicitor General Jose Calida branded the proposed measure as “unconstitutional and illegal” and even warned of “grave consequences” should the bill be passed into law.

He argued that the proposed bill disregards the legislative nature and origin of a franchise in contravention of the Constitution.

“The proposed bills seek to provide a ‘holdover franchise’ to be enjoyed by an entity which has applied for a renewal while Congress is still deliberating on the merits of such renewal,” the chief state lawyer stressed.

The Solicitor General stressed that by institutionalizing the system of “hold over franchise” in the broadcast industry, the legislative measures already violate the “settled rule that the privilege to operate a broadcasting station requires a legislative franchise in the form of a law.”

Calida emphasized that the practice of “hold-over franchise” poses the danger of allowing a broadcasting entity with an expired franchise to continue using its assigned frequency without a definitive legislative finding that it remains qualified to retain such privilege.

The said policy is also open to abuse because it paves the way for “shrewd broadcasting entities the incentive to delay an impending denial of an application for franchise renewal.”

“Furthermore, to allow an expired franchise holder to continue its operations thereby extending its use over the free signals granted by the State is akin to promoting ‘exclusivity’ which the Constitution abhors,” Calida pointed out.

The OSG noted that Article XII, Section 10 of the Constitution provides that no such franchise certificates are exclusive.

This is to support and encourage equity participation in public utilities by the general public also provided in Section 11, it added.

“By allowing the select few to use these privileges despite having an expired franchise limit the public to apply for these privileges. This promotes exclusivity which will run counter to the true intention of the Constitution,” the OSG said.

NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba informed the House panel that the agency fully adopted the OSG position as its own position against HB 7923.

A counterpart bill was filed in the Senate by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.

According to the OSG, since the bills were filed on the same date and contained identical wordings, it can be “reasonably” hypothesized that the legislative move was aimed at granting the reinstatement of the legislative franchises of ABS-CBN and the Amcara Broadcasting Network, whose franchises have both expired and had been the subject of a cease-and-desist order issued by the NTC.

It was learned that Tambunting used to work for ABS-CBN as a producer. She was among the vocal supporters of the network’s bid for an extension of the legislative franchise that the Lower House did not grant.

On the other hand, ABS-CBN critic and Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla had been insistent in his claim that Amcara was a mere “dummy” of ABS-CBN.

“Therefore, the OSG urges Congress to further review and study Senate Bill No. 1530 and House Bill No. 7923 as they both raise constitutional and legal questions and issues that are not to be taken lightly. Should the bills be passed into law, the OSG stands ready to raise the constitutionality of the law passed before the Highest Court of the land,” Calida vowed.