Poe’s panel defers OK of NOW Telecom’s franchise applications

December 10, 2021 Marlon Purification 247 views

THE Senate Committee on Public Services chaired by Sen. Grace Poe has deferred the approval of the franchise applications of NOW Cable and News and Entertainment Network Corporation (NEWSNET)—sister companies of NOW Telecom which owes the government at least P2.6 billion in unpaid supervision and regulation fees (SRF) and penalties.

“For now, and I don’t want anymore to delay this [public hearing], we will have to defer this one,” Poe told a representative of the company during the public hearing which has been scheduled to review applications for franchise submitted by various private companies.

When it was the turn of NOW Cable, Poe brought up the issue of its ownership and if they were the same people behind NOW Telecom, to which Atty. Henry Abes, president of parent company NOW Corporation said, “Yes, it’s the same owners.”

“You see, the same owners of NOW Broadcast or NOW Cable are also the owners of NOW Telco. I have to bring this up because the characters behind it is also crucial to whether or not they will be given a trust by Congress for a franchise,” Poe explained.

Stressing that franchise is a privilege, Poe underscored the need to be able to trust the characters behind a franchise application. A non-payment of even P5,000 in penalties with the Securities and Exchange Commission is a “basis in itself not to grant the franchise or not to submit the report yet,” she added to illustrate her point.

“So I think this is something that really needs scrutiny. If you have that much money owed to the government, why will the government trust you with another franchise and to the same owner?,” the Senate panel chair raised.

Poe, reading from her notes, narrated that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has been seeking payment from NOW Telecom amounting to P2.6 billion unpaid SRF and penalties that have piled up since 2004. She added that the telecoms regulator, through the Office of the Solicitor General, has already filed a motion with the Supreme Court reiterating the unpaid obligation which needs to be settled.

The motion is pending before the High Tribunal for decision.

When sought for comment on NOW Cable’s application for franchise, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba confirmed to the Senate Committee on Public Services that its owners were the same people who own NOW Telecom.

“I think it’s the same owners, the same group, and in the Supreme Court, your honors, actually they are the ones contesting the decision of the Court of Appeals which already affirmed the decision of the NTC regarding the amount that they have to pay,” Cordoba said.

He also confirmed to Poe the amount the government has been trying to collect from NOW Telecom, which was computed with the help of the Commission on Audit.

“There are a lot of confusing things in this particular franchise application. That their non-operation for a period of time, the change of ownership and then now the sister company having these liabilities,” Poe observed.

Sen. Joel Villanueva said he also has questions with regard to the applications of NOW Cable and NEWSNET. “We have some questions with regard to these two franchises.”

Poe told committee members that Sen. Ralph Recto has relayed to her that he would like to reserve his time to quiz NOW Cable and NEWSNET in the next public hearing.