House OKs ABS-CBN provisional franchise

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star
House OKs ABS-CBN provisional franchise
The plenary convened as the committee of the whole and approved on first reading House Bill 6732 an hour after it was filed by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and several other House leaders. It was passed on second reading last night.
Philstar.com / File Photo

Network may resume broadcast by June – Cayetano

MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives yesterday passed a bill granting a provisional franchise to broadcast giant ABS-CBN until Oct. 31 while Congress deliberates on the network’s application for the renewal of its franchise.

The plenary convened as the committee of the whole and approved on first reading House Bill 6732 an hour after it was filed by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and several other House leaders. It was passed on second reading last night.

The chamber opted to expedite approval by doing away with regular hearings before the legislative franchise committee and instead passed the bill through the committee of the whole, as allowed under House rules.

The bill will need formal approval on third reading by the House plenary, and then by the Senate, before it can take effect and allow ABS-CBN to resume operations.

Cayetano explained that the measure would enable the network to resume operations in the next months as Congress hears its application for renewal of its franchise that expired last May 4.

“Providing ABS-CBN with a provisional franchise valid until 31 October 2020 will give both 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 a franchise for another 25 years,” Cayetano said.

He pointed out that hearings would still be held to deliberate on allegations of violations of franchise committed by the network.

Cayetano was joined by Deputy Speakers LRay Villafuerte, Neptali Gonzales II, Raneo Abu, Robbie Puno and Dan Fernandez and Bulacan Rep. Jonathan Sy-Alvarado.

In his sponsorship speech, Cayetano stood firm in his position that the House cannot prioritize the franchise renewal bills as Congress should focus on measures needed to address the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis.

“Nothing should be more important than defeating COVID-19. You cannot hope to weigh the value of our immediate response to the pandemic as against the concerns of a private corporation. There simply is no comparison,” he stressed.

Among the pending measures in the House are the economic stimulus program, “new normal” bill and the “Balik Probinsya” bill.

The Speaker admitted that the shutdown of ABS-CBN by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), through alleged “unconstitutional meddling” by Solicitor General Jose Calida, was a distraction.

The Senate will immediately conduct a hearing on various bills on the franchise application of ABS-CBN and come up with a report for approval by the chamber’s committee of the whole.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri expressed optimism both chambers of Congress would be able to ratify the bill before they adjourn on June 3.

The Senate will convene as a committee of the whole next week to hold hearings with Cabinet officials in connection with COVID-19 with the aim of coming up with legislation to address the pandemic.

Among the pending bills in the Senate on the matter are proposals to grant ABS-CBN a provisional franchise until 2022 and a measure from Sen. Lito Lapid mandating Congress to issue a temporary franchise to an applicant for renewal if lawmakers cannot resolve the application by the time the concerned franchise expires.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the chamber can approve a bill from the House if the latter acts quickly.

“The key is for the (House of Representatives) to act on the franchise as soon as possible,” Drilon said.

Sen. Sonny Angara said the referral to the latter’s committee of the whole “usually tends to speed up deliberations.”

Sen. Manny Pacquiao said the decision of the House was “welcome news.”

Pacquiao said the relief should give ABS-CBN management ample time to finally iron out problems related to its franchise and secure a regular congressional franchise.

Franchise opponents

Sources revealed that while several lawmakers have been vocally supporting the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise, a “silent, big majority” in the House is against the renewal after the network went off-air following the cease and desist order (CDO) issued by the NTC last May 5.

“With so many members (of House) against it (franchise renewal), rejection of the franchise is really possible,” the source told The STAR.

The source said that the 14 proponents of bills seeking renewal of the network’s 25-year franchise and several House members vocally supporting their cause in the media actually stand as a “minority” on the matter.

“You can tell the pulse of the majority by looking at those who are silent,” stressed the insider, a member of the House leadership.

But the source clarified that this current position of the majority could still change “depending on the outcome of the hearings,” which are set to start before Congress goes into another recess next month.

Deputy Speaker Villafuerte said just like approval of the franchise bills or even a proposal to grant a provisional franchise until June 2022, the rejection of the franchise application is also possible.

“All things are possible. Congress might issue the franchise in the same possibility that it might not,” he told ANC’s Headstart in an interview yesterday.

He also believed that the resolution filed by President Duterte’s son and Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte calling for an investigation by the franchise committee on alleged violations of ABS-CBN was not a signal of the position of the President on the matter.

The House is known for having a “super majority” bloc of members allied with the administration. Of the 303 members, over 250 representatives belong to political parties and blocs that support the Duterte administration.

Cayetano already hinted that while the House committee on legislative franchises will hear the ABS-CBN franchise bills, it would not be a guarantee that such renewal would be granted.

He reiterated that the House would address the matter and hold “a fair, impartial, comprehensive and thorough presentation and appreciation of the evidence that we can clear the air.”

Cayetano also said the matter would have to wait for resolution of more pressing matters and that the House would not succumb to pressure brought about by the NTC’s move to shut down the network last May 5.

“While the deception of the NTC and the meddling of the Solicitor General adds exigency to the matter, there are still other concerns that need to be resolved,” Cayetano stressed, in apparent response to a letter from 14 proponents of franchise renewal bills calling for immediate hearing by the committee on legislative franchises.

At least 14 congressmen have urged Cayetano to facilitate the immediate convening of the committee on legislative franchise so that it can tackle the pending renewal bills on the franchise of ABS-CBN.

In a letter dated May 12 that included their joint statement, the congressmen who are authors and co-authors of pending bills for the renewal of franchise said they strongly share Cayetano’s frustrations with the non-issuance of a provisional authority to the network by the NTC, which commitment was made under oath during the March 10 hearing of the legislative franchise committee.

The letter was signed by Deputy Speakers Rose Marie Arenas (Pangasinan), Vilma Santos-Recto (Batangas), Johnny Ty Pimentel (Surigao del Sur,), Reps. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela Women’s party-list), France Castro (Act Teachers party-list), Micaela Violago (Nueva Ecija), Sol Aragones (Laguna), Joy Myra Tambunting (Parañaque), Carlos Isagani Zarate (Deputy Minority Leader, Bayan Muna party-list), Josephine Ramirez-Sato (Occidental Mindoro), Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro City), Ferdinand Gaite (Bayan Muna party-list), Eufemia Cullamat (Bayan Muna party-list) and Sarah Jane Elago (Kabataan party-list).

Their letter said the committee and the House are now being blamed for the shutdown of the network that has displaced thousands of employees. - Paolo Romero, Eva Visperas

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