Senate passes resolution for ABS-CBN

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
Senate passes resolution for ABS-CBN
The resolution was a consolidation of four similar measures filed over the last several days after House leaders indicated that it was unlikely to pass the network’s application before Congress goes on a break next week.
STAR / Paolo Romero

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate adopted yesterday a resolution expressing the opinion of the chamber to allow ABS-CBN and its subsidiaries to continue operating with the issuance of a provisional permit by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) until Congress decides on the network’s application for the renewal of its 25-year franchise.

The resolution was a consolidation of four similar measures filed over the last several days after House leaders indicated that it was unlikely to pass the network’s application before Congress goes on a break next week.

What was initially put on the floor was Senate Concurrent Resolution 8 authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Sens. Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, Sonny Angara, Sherwin Gatchalian, Lito Lapid and Joel Villanueva.

However, a discussion ensued on the type of resolution that the chamber should pass. Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon last month filed a joint resolution seeking to extend the franchise until 2022 and later, a concurrent resolution seeking the same.

A joint resolution, if passed by both the Senate and the House and signed by the President, has the effect of law. A concurrent resolution passed by both chambers expresses the sentiment of Congress.

Sen. Pia Cayetano filed Senate Resolution 344 expressing the sense of the Senate to authorize the NTC to grant ABS-CBN and its subsidiaries a temporary permit. The resolution was signed by Sens. Ronald dela Rosa, Christopher Go, Imee Marcos, Bong Revilla, Francis Tolentino, Cynthia Villar, Zubiri, Pacquiao, Angara, Villanueva, Gatchalian and Binay.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III expressed exasperation as to why the NTC was asking some form of authority or prodding from Congress before it would issue a temporary permit when the agency has been doing so in the past several years, even to controversial franchise applications.

“This has never happened before… Are they afraid to displease somebody?” Sotto said.

He described President Duterte – who has repeatedly vowed to shut down ABS-CBN – as “a wonderful man.”

Sotto said the NTC in 2015 issued 338 provisional permits to franchises which lapsed before Congress could approve them; 471 in 2016; 259 in 2017; 155 in 2018 and 300 in 2019.

“Why are we making our lives difficult by trying to pass a concurrent resolution? Why not simply pass a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate? But I’ll tell you this. If we are adopting a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate, as simple as that, I will sign the resolution. I did not sign the proposed resolution simply because it is a concurrent resolution which does not have the effect of a law… it’s useless. There’s no counterpart in the House,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.

During the previous hearing of the committee on public services chaired by Poe, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the NTC can issue a provisional permit under the principle of equity.

Guevarra, however, added it would be better if Congress issues a resolution on the matter.

Drilon said the resolution, though just an expression of the sense of the Senate, “would give some degree of legal stability” if Congress could issue authority to the NTC.

House tackles  franchise next week

The House of Representatives is set to start hearing the franchise renewal application of broadcast giant ABS-CBN next week.

At a press conference yesterday, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano announced that the House committee on legislative franchises has set a preliminary hearing on March 10 on 11 bills seeking renewal of the network’s 25-year franchise.

Cayetano explained that the panel would formally open the process for deliberations on the measure by setting the ground rules and accepting position papers both supporting and opposing the franchise renewal.

“We don’t want the hearings to be a circus or a bull session,” he stressed.

He said the panel would also clarify its instruction to the NTC to allow ABS-CBN to continue operating despite expiration of its franchise on May 4.

“We want to clarify with NTC that while the committee is taking up the franchise bills, they should not shut down the network’s operations,” he said.

Cayetano pointed out, however, that the ABS-CBN management will not be invited et to the hearing as they do not want to invite all parties to a face-off in just one hearing.

He said they would like to avoid a situation where parties would resort to a “word war” during the congressional recess.

“Our appeal to the parties is to submit all position papers before we reconvene in May so the chairman of the committee would be able to set the agenda properly,” he suggested, citing issues on labor and partisan reporting in political coverage as examples.

Panel chair and Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, for his part, revealed that they have no plans of holding hearings on the franchise bills during the seven-week recess of the House.

“Most of the congressmen will be in their respective cities and provinces performing their district duties during the break, so we will just set the next hearing after resumption of session in May,” he said.  

He added that the proposal to issue a joint resolution with the Senate to extend the franchise of ABS-CBN until a new one is approved is no longer an option for the panel. – With Edu Punay

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