Cayetano: 'Congress will be fair' on ABS-CBN franchise renewal
A day after Duterte lashed out at ABS-CBN Corp. anew, House solons said they no longer planned to address the five bills seeking to renew the broadcast giant's legislative franchise until next year.
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Cayetano: 'Congress will be fair' on ABS-CBN franchise renewal
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - December 4, 2019 - 2:54pm

MANILA, Philippines — The House will not be tackling bills seeking to renew ABS-CBN Corporation's legislative franchise, which expires in March of next year, for the rest of 2019, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano (Taguig) said on Wednesday, saying also that Congress would be "fair" in deliberating the bills.

He said the House needs to prioritize the P4.1-trillion 2020 budget bill, which both chambers of Congress have passed and which will go to the bicameral conference committee.

"I reiterate that Congress would be fair. We'll always have a fair hearing. Alam naman 'to din ng management ng ABS-CBN na inuna namin 'yung budget at saka mga revenue bills," Cayetano told reporters.

"Pero we have more than enough time, more than enough time to tackle it in January, February,  dahil March pa naman 'yung expiration ng franchise." 

(I reiterate that Congress would be fair. We'll always have a fair hearing. ABS-CBN's management knows that we prioritized the budget and the revenue bills. But we have more than enough time to tackle it in January, February because the expiration of the franchise is still in March.)

President Rodrigo Duterte, who has the power to veto bills that Congress passes, has already said the franchise will not be renewed.  

The franchise's renewal has been pending since September 15, 2014.

Their current franchise, which was approved by virtue of Republic Act No. 7966, expires on March 20, 2020, at which point their radio and broadcast operations will have to shut down if no renewal is approved.  

As with all bills, the Senate must also approve a counterpart measure.

Rep. Franz Alvarez (Palawan), who chairs the House committee on legislative franchises, told CNN Philippines on Wednesday that the committee no longer has any hearings scheduled through December 20, at which point the 18th Congress would adjourn session for the holidays.  

In saying this, however, Cayetano contradicted his earlier claim that the House would see to it that the issue would be tackled before the end of the year. 

"Siguro before the end of the year probably the hearings will start. But we have a little bit of time naman" he was quoted as telling reporters earlier on October 29.

"Kung 'yong budget one month naipasa, definitely we [can] have hearings kasi may mga issues na kailangang i-resolve."

(If we were able to pass the budget in one month, then definitely we can have hearings because there are issues that need to be resolved.)

Duterte: If you expect your franchise to be renewed, I'm sorry

Cayetano's and Alvarez's statements came after a scathing threat made by Duterte on Tuesday that he would guarantee they would not receive a 25-year renewal. 

"Ang iyong franchise mag-end next year. If you expect ma-renew 'yan, I'm sorry. I will see to it that you’re out," reiterated Duterte during a speech in front of new government officials at Malacañang, before whom he launched into another rant against what he said were oligarchs "screwing over" the country.

The chief executive's ire for the media network has extended back to 2017, when he publicly accused them of "swindling" him during his campaign. 

Duterte has constantly targeted ABS-CBN, as well as the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Rappler,  for what he said was their insistence on releasing reports that put him in a bad light. 

The president also said ABS-CBN did not air his paid political advertisements while they aired anti-Duterte advertisements paid for by his political rivals. 

'Weapon to control free press'

Media watchdog organization Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) in a statement released in June 2016 said that Duterte's moves against the network were signs of "congressional franchises [being used] as a weapon to control a free press."

In the same statement, CMFR argued that the dependence of broadcasting corporations on Congress and the Office of the President was a setup that was prone to abuse. 

"It has not helped that Duterte himself has fanned the flames of resentment against the press by lashing out at the media in several of his now controversial press briefings," CMFR said in their statement. 

"For a press used to politicians and their temperament, this is all par for the course. But what if a large and influential network – like ABS-CBN – owes its very existence to the government or, to be more specific, the now Duterte-controlled Congress?"

"The right to a free press is too precious a right to be at the disposal of government officials who, more often than not, react adversely to media coverage by using their power to stop the operations of media organizations they regard as too critical," they added. 

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