House OKs provisional franchise for ABS-CBN on second reading

House OKs provisional franchise for ABS-CBN on second reading
This view shows the ABS-CBN network headquarters in Quezon City in the Metro Manila area on May 5, 2020. The Philippines' top broadcaster ABS-CBN on May 5 was ordered off the air over a stalled operating licence renewal, drawing fresh charges that authorities were cracking down on press freedom.
AFP / Maria Tan

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 9: 13 p.m.) — Broadcast giant ABS-CBN welcomed the approval at the committee level of the House of Representatives—later in plenary on second reading—of a provisional franchise that would allow it to operate until the end of October 2020. 

"We thank the leaders of the House of Representatives and the sponsors of the bill led by Speaker Alan Cayetano and Majority Leader Martin Romualdez for recognizing the role we play in providing for the needs of the people in terms of access to news, information, entertainment, and public service at this crucial time," the network said.

"We look forward to participating in the process of our franchise renewal and stand ready to respond to the issues that have been raised against the network, its owners, management and employees," it also said.

A special panel on Wednesday approved a bill, sponsored by House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, to grant ABS-CBN a provisional franchise until the end of October 2020.

The House convened as a Committee of the Whole and approved House Bill 6732 or the proposed legislation to grant ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. a franchise until October 31, 2020, “unless sooner revoked or cancelled.”

The Committee of the Whole is not among the regular committees in either house of Congress but can be constituted by a motion of the majority leader. According to House rules, the Committee of the Whole "functions as one committee acting upon a bill or resolution, and conducting its proceedings like a regular committee with its membership composed of all the Members of the House."

The bill will need to be passed on third and final reading.

Franchise bills emanate exclusively from the House but, like all legislation, need Senate approval on a counterpart bill.

Cayetano, in his sponsorship speech, said this would give the House and the Senate time to “hear the issues being raised for and against the renewal, and assess, with complete impartiality and fairness, whether or not the network shall be granted franchise for another 25 years.”

“There will be no rush to judgment. Both the praise for and the charges against the network will be heard and put on public record,” he added.

Blame on the shutdown of broadcast giant ABS-CBN has been pinned on Cayetano, who previously blamed meddling by the National Telecommunications Commission and by Solicitor General Jose Calida for the order for the network to stop airing.

House bill

Cayetano and his co-authors of the bill wrote on the explanatory note that the 18th Congress had to deal with key pieces of legislation such as the General Appropriations Act and to tackle the aftermath of eruption of Taal Volcano in January.

After assurances from the NTC that the network will not go off air, the lawmakers said they went to work on other measures linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The sudden turnaround by the NTC was both unexpected and unconscionable. It only disrupted the essential work of Congress, and sowed intrigue and disunity among different branches of government and our people—it was done during this period of crisis,” it added.

“Through this measure, we hope to strike a balance between the immediate needs of the people amid this crisis and the duty of Congress to ensure accountability to our present laws,” it also read.

The following lawmakers co-sponsored the bill:

  • Rep. Neptali Gonzalez (Mandaluyong City)
  • Rep. Raneo Abu (Batangas, 2nd District)
  • Rep. Roberto Puno (Antipolo City, 1st District)
  • Rep. Dan Fernandez (Laguna, 1st District)
  • Rep. LRay Villafuerte Jr. (Camarines Sur, 2nd District)
  • Rep. Ferdinand Romualdez (Leyte, 1st District)
  • Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado (Bulacan, 1st District)

Cayetano speech

Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte, Rep. Abraham Tolentino and Rep. Eric Go Yap (ACT-CIS party-list) filed a separate bill calling for an investigation into alleged franchise violations of the network.

Among the supposed violations they cited is the operation of Kapamilya Box Office and foreign investors — arguments raised by Calida in his quo warranto petition filed before the Supreme Court.

Cayetano in his speech said that issues raised against the network shall not be “swept under the rug” and that the House will not “proceed as if nothing happened.” — Kristine Joy Patag with reports from The STAR/Edu Punay

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