On the ABS-CBN Issue

A decided case quite related to the ABS-CBN is the Divinagracia v. Consolidated Broadcasting System (CBS), [G.R. NO. 162272 : April 7, 2009, 2nd Supreme Court Division].

In the ABS-CBN, the franchise has expired, while in Divinagracia v. CBS a subsisting franchise exists. The issue on the latter case is on the exercise of the NTC’s regulatory power as delegated by Congress.

Justice Tinga, ponente, wrote: “To fully understand the scope and dimensions of the regulatory realm of the NTC, it is essential to review the legal background of the regulation process. As operative fact, any person or enterprise which wishes to operate a broadcast radio or television station in the Philippines has to secure a legislative franchise in the form of a law passed by Congress, and thereafter a license to operate from the NTC.”

“In analyzing the compelling government interest that may justify the investiture of authority on the NTC… we cannot ignore the interest of the State as expressed in the respective legislative franchises of the petitioner, R.A. No. 7477 and R. A. No. 7582. Since legislative franchises are extended through statutes, they should receive recognition as the ultimate expression of State policy”.

Both franchise statutes require the grantee “to secure from the [NTC] the appropriate permits and licenses for its stations” (See NTC MC No. 10-18-1990; Sec. 3 of R.A. 7966).

This judicial obiter, however, does not apply to the ABS-CBN case because it has already no legit anchor, none so far, to stand on—its franchise having expired.

The blame is on the part of the owners and management of the ABS-CBN why the shutdown order was put into force and effect.

“For unknown reasons”, Enrile said, “ABS-CBN was not able to have its franchises renewed or extended by Congress “(Point 5)… “All along, a legislative bill seeking to extend the expiring franchises of ABS-CBN was previously filed” but “it languished in the House of Representatives for quite some time now without action.”

“Does Congress really have the legislative power or authority to grant such a temporary franchise to ABS-CBN—or to anyone else similarly situated—to enable it to carry on and continue the business of a mass media enterprise whose franchises have already reached their terminal end? I do not think so” (Point 12) (The ABS-CBN Puzzle, 12:25 a.m. 17 May 2020).

Enrile continued: “mass media business operations, like radio stations, broadcast televisions or cable televisions use sovereign assets of the State—such as frequencies and public easements—in their business operations, they are required by the Constitution to have legislative franchises from Congress before they start their business and broadcast operations. And these franchises are granted by Congress for a specified and limited duration” (Point 2) (See Art. XII, Sec. 11 of the Constitution; Sec. 7 of R.A. 7966).

Does the ABS-CBN have something to hide and avoid?