Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo. (Screengrab from RTVM)

MANILA – The failure of ABS-CBN Corp. to secure a fresh 25-year franchise from Congress is not a move closer to President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial rule in the country, Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said on Friday.

During his commentary show “Counterpoint” aired on state-run PTV-4, Panelo said House lawmakers merely observed the rule of law when they decided to junk ABS-CBN’s bid to get a new franchise.

”Hindi ibig sabihin ito ay isang hakbang tungo sa isang diktaturya (This does not mean it is a prelude to the declaration of martial law). This is in fact a further step towards the faithful observance of due process of law,” Panelo said.

Panelo’s statement came four days after Duterte said he is “very happy” that he has dismantled the oligarchy in the country without declaring martial law.

The House Committee on Legislative Franchises on July 10 denied the application of ABS-CBN for a fresh 25-year congressional franchise to enable the network to resume its broadcast operations.

Panelo said it was wrong to assume that ABS-CBN can use its franchise “forever.”

He said the granting of the legislative franchise to a broadcast firm is merely a “privilege and not a right.”

“Wala kayong pwedeng sabihin na since binigyan kayo, amin na ito forever. Hindi pupwede kasi (You cannot say that since you were granted a franchise, that’s yours forever. That cannot happen because) you don’t have a vested right to the privilege granted to you,” Panelo said.

Before the denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise bid, lawmakers at the House of Representatives tackled several issues hounding the network, such as the citizenship of ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Eugenio Lopez III, its issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts, and its supposed commission of alleged labor and tax violations.

Panelo said a broadcast network, including ABS-CBN, will be stripped of its privilege to get a new franchise if it commits certain violations.

“So ang mensahe is kung lumabag sa Saligang Batas ang mga may hawak ng prangkisa at kung ano pa mang mga batas na nilabag nito, yung pribilehiyong yun ay tatanggalin sa inyo (So the message is if a franchise holder violates the Constitution and the laws, you will not have the privilege to get a fresh franchise),” he said.

Critics have claimed that ABS-CBN’s closure is supposedly a serious blow to press freedom, an accusation which Panelo denied.

“‘Yung hindi pagbibigay ng prangkisa ay hindi ‘yun babala sa press upang huminto kayo sa inyong exercise ng isang constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of the press (The failure to grant a franchise is not a warning to the press to prevent them from exercising the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of the press),” he said.

ABS-CBN, upon the directive of the National Telecommunications Commission’s (NTC) shutdown order, ceased its broadcast operations on May 5, or a day after the expiration of the network’s legislative franchise.

The NTC on June 30 also issued two cease and desist orders, directing ABS-CBN to halt the operation of its digital television transmission using Amcara Broadcasting Corp.’s Channel 43 and the direct-to-home satellite transmission of its cable firm, Sky Cable Corp.

On Wednesday, the network announced that it would cease the operations of its businesses and lay off workers starting August 31. (PNA)