MANILA, Philippines — Media giant ABS-CBN Corp. yesterday failed to secure a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court (SC) that could have allowed the network to resume its radio and television broadcast.
The high court’s failure to issue a ruling on ABS-CBN’s petition for a TRO means that the cease and desist order (CDO) issued by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) against the company stays.
During an online full court session, 14 justices unanimously ordered the NTC and Congress to comment on ABS-CBN’s petition instead of issuing a TRO, SC spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka said.
The SC gave the NTC, Senate and House of Representatives 10 days from receipt of notice to comment on the network’s petition questioning the CDO.
ABS-CBN named the NTC as the only respondent, but the justices separately impleaded Congress and required them to file a comment, Hosaka said.
The SC also denied the plea of lawyer Lorenzo Gadon to consolidate the ABS-CBN case with his petition, which asked the high tribunal to stop the NTC from issuing the network a provisional authority to operate after the expiration of its 25-year franchise.
ABS-CBN filed the petition for TRO on May 7, two days after the NTC issued the CDO against the media giant.
Malacañang said it is leaving it up to the SC to decide on the petition filed by ABS-CBN.
“I don’t know how to react to that. We will just let the SC decide,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at a press briefing. “If there is no TRO, that means the SC is not convinced that a restraining order is needed.”
House recalls provisional franchise bill
At the House of Representatives, lawmakers dropped yesterday the proposed measure granting ABS-CBN a temporary franchise pending deliberations on its application for a fresh 25-year franchise.
In a privilege speech during a mixed physical and virtual plenary session, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano recalled House Bill 6732 that had been approved on first reading by the chamber sitting as committee of the whole.
“Because of divisiveness and after consulting with lawmakers, the House leadership decided to forgo the grant of a provisional franchise and immediately proceed with the hearings on the bills seeking renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise,” Cayetano said.
He said the matter would be returned to the House committee on legislative franchises chaired by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez.
The decision was reached following a caucus among leaders of political blocs in the majority coalition and after the chamber recalled its approval on second reading of the bill that would have granted provisional franchise to the network until Oct.31, 2020.
A majority of House members supported the proposal of Bulacan Rep. Jonathan Sy-Alvarado to refer the matter back to the legislative franchises panel.
Cayetano explained that he earlier pushed for the provisional franchise because he would have wanted to allow the network to continue airing while Congress hears the franchise renewal application.
It was not clear if the withdrawal of HB 6732 would still need approval of the House plenary.
Solicitor General Jose Calida said he agreed with Cayetano’s call to have a thorough investigation on supposed violations of ABS-CBN.
“These issues must be resolved first before a bill authorizing ABS-CBN to operate is passed, even if what is being granted is only a provisional franchise. Certainly, one cannot put the cart before the horse,” Calida said yesterday.
“The grant of a legislative franchise is imbued with public interest. It cannot be haphazardly issued. Thus, to issue a provisional franchise to allow ABS-CBN to continue its broadcasting operations without conducting a hearing would amount to Congress acting speedily for the sake of acting speedily, which is a disservice to the Filipino people,” he added.
Provisional franchise OK
The network is amenable to a provisional franchise from Congress if only to be able to air immediately to provide news and information, and stop the possible retrenchment of thousands of its workers, ABS-CBN president and chief executive officer Carlo Katigbak said.
“At this point, the priority for ABS-CBN is to return on air as quickly as possible. We need to do this so we can start earning revenues so we can continue paying the salaries of our employees,” Katigbak told the Senate committee on public services through video conference.
“If a provisional franchise valid until October is the quickest way to get back on air, then we accept that with the hope that Congress continue hearings so we can secure the 25-year franchise,” he added.
He said ABS-CBN and its subsidiaries, which employ over 11,000 people have committed to retain jobs for three months even if it continues to lose over P30 million per day since it was shut down by the government on May 5.
ABS-CBN on Monday said it was stunned by accusations raised during House deliberations on the proposed provisional franchise, saying the allegations have been answered under oath by network executives and government officials at a Senate hearing on Feb. 24.
ABS-CBN said officials of the Securities and Exchange Commission, NTC and Bureau of Internal Revenue have testified that the network “had no violations as it relates to their specific agency.”
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said he was worried if the matter is not immediately settled, the network may lose its frequencies, which is necessary if it is to resume operations.
“Unless the franchise is outright rejected, I think we should give them a fighting chance to be able to continue their operations,” Zubiri said.
The hearing, presided over by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, was supposed to take up pending bills in the Senate all seeking to grant the network a provisional or 25-year franchise.
The panel did not take up HB 6732, which seeks to grant the network a temporary five-month franchise as senators agreed to wait for the measure to reach the Senate.
Officials of the NTC were a no-show at the hearing. But senators said they would be made to explain in the next hearing expected to be held next week.
During the hearing, former chief justice Reynato Puno said Congress has the authority to grant the network a provisional franchise, but advised that it would be better if the Senate waits for the House bill.
Former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile said if Congress intends to grant ABS-CBN a 25-year franchise, then it should do so instead of giving it a temporary authority. Alexis Romero, Edu Punay, Paolo Romero, Ralph Edwin Villanueva