ABS-CBN Franchise Renewal: On Legal Issues (Part 1)

“People crushed by law have no hopes but for power. If laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to laws; and those who have much hope and nothing to lose will always be dangerous more or less.”

 Edmund Burke, Letter to Charles Fox, 8 Oct. 1777

solidarity logo of abs-cbn franchise renewal issue“Law is law” (dura lex, sed lex) and “no one is above the law” (nemo est supra legem) become the counter-arguments of trolls and supporters of the administration against the ABS-CBN franchise renewal. Nonetheless, antagonists of the network cannot explain what they mean by “law” and what particular “law” that no one is above from. Has the rule of law been applied to this issue?

There are various angles where we can look at concerning this national issue. This blog article will be divided into three parts: legal issues (Part 1), personal issues (Part 2), and political issues (Part 3). We will try to reevaluate what happened for us to draw some light from the issue.

Cease and Desist Order

On May 5, 2020, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) sent a cease and desist order (CDO) to ABS-CBN after the end of its franchise. It was stated in the CDO that “Upon the expiration of RA 7966, ABS-CBN no longer has a valid and subsisting congressional franchise as required by Act No. 3846.”

It is clear that the order of shutdown is due to the “expiration of RA 7966.” However, trolls and the likes are pushing with their argument of “unpaid taxes” even NTC didn’t talk anything about it in the statement they provide to stop the network. Aside from tax issues, disputes have also been thrown about the pay-per-view of KBO, labor law, PDRs compliance, and the “1 channel, 1 franchise” controversy. The answers in each of these contentions related to the ABS-CBN franchise renewal will be provided at the end part of this blog.

statement of abs-cbn on the cease and desist order
ABS-CBN’s statement on the cease and desist order issued by the NTC.
Congressional Franchise

In relation to the CDO, what NTC talked about was the “congressional franchise” under Act No. 3846. Now, that is the “law” that trolls fail to explain. What does the “congressional franchise” mean?

The Republic Act No. 3846, also known as Radio Control Law, 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 therefore from the Congress of the Philippines.”

That’s the “congressional franchise” that the NTC is talking about in their Cease and Desist Order. The last time this provision was amended was around the 1950s. It promulgates that a broadcasting station should secure a franchise from Congress before it can operate. The writer believes that this particular provision needs to be revisited (more on this in part 3 of this article).

For the ones who didn’t know, the Congress has two houses: the Upper House (or Senate) composed of 24 senators and the Lower House (or House of Representatives) consist of 300 representatives (or congressmen/women). They are the ones who are supposed to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN that has expired on May 4, 2020. It is specifically handed to the Philippine House Committee on Legislative Franchises composed of 46 members.

advertising and pr groups support abs-cbn franchise renewal
Source: ABS-CBN Store Facebook Page
What happened in Congress?

There are about 11 bills in Congress seeking the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN since July 2019. The Lower House failed to discuss the issue before the franchise expired on May 14 because, according to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, “it is not a priority.” (Issues about Rep. Cayetano will be tackled more in Part 2 of this blog.)

Since the 300 elected representatives failed to pass the bills before the franchise expiration, NTC was given the power to issue Provisional Authority (PA) to let the franchise operate beyond May 4, 2020, while the renewal process is pending in Congress, especially in the Lower House, not in the Senate. NTC, however, was not able to provide a PA.

Related blog article: ABS-CBN Franchise Renewal: On Personal Issues (Part 2)

In March, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba promised to the Lower House that they would heed the advice of the Department of Justice to allow ABS-CBN to operate while its franchise renewal was pending in Congress.

When NTC ordered to shutdown ABS-CBN on May 5, the head of the committee on franchises in the Lower House, Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, was shocked and said that NTC has no basis to shut ABS-CBN. Rep. Alvarez stated, “I was expecting them to issue provisional authority to ABS-CBN so it could continue airing while the committee on franchises was hearing the application.”

In addition, the Senate expected that NTC will allow ABS-CBN to operate until June 30, 2020. Some of the example operating agencies beyond the expiration of their franchises that the Senate provide are:

  • Smart Communications Inc.,
  • Philippine Telegraph & Telephone Corp., and
  • Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Inc.

Upon hearing the biggest news related to press freedom, Senate President Tito Sotto promised to approve the bill for the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise once it will be brought in the Senate or Upper House. However, yesterday, July 10, 2020, the ABS-CBN franchise renewal hearing ended with 70 members of the House committee denying the bid and only 11 legislators in favor of the renewal.

Related blog article: ABS-CBN Franchise Renewal: On Political Issues (Part 3)

With all the legal controversies against them, ABS-CBN was able to provide reasonable answers.

  1. BIR told the Senate panel that the network is regularly paying taxes: bit.ly/2XsaITP
  2. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra assured that the pay-per-view KBO is allowed under the network’s franchise: bit.ly/2LV6tdY
  3. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello cleared the network’s compliance with labor standards: bit.ly/3gjCGts
  4. SEC approved the PDRs of ABS-CBN Holdings Corp: bit.ly/2AWUREZ
  5. For 65 years, the network has not violated its broadcast frequency: bit.ly/36zpw75

Does the rule of law prevail? Is dura lex, sed lex applied? Is freedom of the press protected? Philosopher Edmund Burke, the one quoted at the beginning of this article, believes the laws of men are not perfect, because lawmakers who are in power are flawed and could bring terror instead of good. With that, he holds that new laws could represent gaps, errors, and contradictions. With the things presented above and the ones you’re about to discover in the next articles, you’re the one who will decide if the issue of ABS-CBN franchise renewal is measured with the rule of law or not. You can now go on and read Part 2 here.

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JP Abecilla

JP Abecilla is a lifestyle Filipino blogger, freelance content writer, copy editor, and motivational speaker based in Cebu City, Philippines. He was awarded Blog of the Year 2020 (2nd Place) and Best Cebu Events Blog of 2019. More than writing, JP loves drinking a cup of coffee and eating donuts while reading a book or magazine.

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