THE House legislative franchise committee opened its proceedings on bills seeking to extend the franchise of ABS-CBN Corporation yesterday, the same day the Senate opened its inquiry into the franchise issue.
The House move also came days after Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go announced that President Duterte does not really want the television giant to shut down.
Go is a former special assistant of President Duterte who has repeatedly expressed his ire at the network for its refusal to air some of his campaign ads in the 2016 elections despite collection of payment. He has also said he would see to it that its franchise would not be renewed.
Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, panel chair, said the formal hearing will be between May and August as the meeting was called only for the purpose of asking stakeholders to submit their positions papers.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano last week said the House will be able to tackle bills seeking to extend the network’s franchise only in August.
Yesterday, Cayetano slammed the Senate hearing, saying some senators were just trying to earn brownie points from ABS-CBN.
“Bakit naghi-hearing ang Senate? Anong purpose? Parang nag a-attendance sila sa ABS? ‘Hello! I’m here, I’m for you, (Why is the Senate hearing it? What’s the purpose? It’s like they are having their attendance checked for ABS as if they’re saying, ‘Hello! I’m here! I’m here for you!’” he told reporters.
“Parang nag a-attendance lahat ng gustong sumipsip sa ABS-CBN. The reality is kung gustong isara, isang hearing lang eh di isara or huwag i-hear at sabihin sa NTC na isara ito (It’s like those who want to suck up to ABS-CBN are having their attendance checked. The reality is if we really want it to close down, we would have done it, we’ll just not hear it and tell the NTC [National Telecommunications Commission] to shut it down),” he added.
Cayetano said there is a lot of noise coming from different sectors, raising various scenarios when the House leadership has already given an assurance that ABS-CBN will not be shut down after March 30 when its franchise is believed to expire. [Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told the Senate hearing the franchise will expire on May 4, 2020.]
The Speaker earlier accused Sen. Grace Poe of violating the Constitution by insisting on opening committee hearings on ABS-CBN’s legislative franchise renewal ahead of the House even if the Charter is clear that franchise bills exclusively emanate from the House, like the annual General Appropriations Bill.
“Ang problema, marami gustong umepal, maraming gustong maging part ng solution, maraming nagpo-propose, panay ‘What if? What if? (The problem is there are lot of people who want a piece of it, many want to be part the solution, they are proposing and saying, ‘What if? What if?)” he said.
He said House leaders will not say things “when we’re not sure what we’re saying – what did the NTC say? There have been several precedents.”
Cayetano said while he could understand that some quarters are just genuine supporters of ABS-CBN, “some are OA (overacting).”
“’Yung iba OA na e, di ba? Parang doomsday na ang ginagawa para lang makapag-sipsip, e hindi yun ang proseso (Others are already OA, right? They’re painting a doomsday scenario just to suck up but that’s not the process). We want ABS to get or not get their franchise based on the merits and we can only go to the merits if we have a sober discussion through a committee hearing,” he said.
Alvarez said witnesses and resource persons will be summoned “after all position papers have been carefully studied and all issues have been threshed out at the committee level.”
In a television interview before the panel’s meeting, Alvarez also said the decision to discuss the network’s franchise renewal yesterday was reached after House leaders consulted with Cayetano.
“Like what Speaker Cayetano said, Congress is committed to fulfill our constitutional mandate to provide a fair and impartial hearing where everyone, those who are for and against this measure, will be given a fair chance to speak and be heard,” he said.
Cayetano said August will be the ideal month to start tackling the bills because it is within the longest period in the legislative calendar, which is uninterrupted by recess — July to October.
Isabela Rep. Antonio “Tonypet” Albano, a panel vice chair, said the position papers would give the committee “ample time to hasten our deliberations in the next calendar ABS-CBN franchise.”
“And I support the chair in saying that please give us enough time, we are working hard so that we will be able to tackle whether to renew or not to renew the ABS-CBN franchise,” he said.
3 FRANCHISES APPROVED
While the 11 ABS-CBN franchise bills are yet to be consolidated and heard, the panel was able to approve three franchise renewal bills for the following companies: Bayan Telecommunications Inc., the Tandag Electric and Telephone Company Inc., and the Caceres Broadcasting Corporation.
Alvarez said the House leadership and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) are coordinating with the Department of Justice for a legal opinion on whether or not the network can continue its broadcast operations beyond the duration of its license.
“There were precedents similar to this situation where there NTC allowed networks to continue its operations while their franchises were being heard like in the cases of GMA, Radyo Veritas, at PT&T,” he said.
During the hearing, Alvarez said: “There was a precedent that they were not closed down so I don’t see any difference, no reason why ABS-CBN’s operation will be stopped pending their franchise renewal in Congress.”
House leaders have been saying that the TV giant will not be forced to stop its operations after March 30 because its franchise renewal application is still pending in Congress.
Annaliza Buenviaje, an engineer from NTC Broadcast Division, said a memorandum of understanding among Congress, NTC and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) was signed in 1994, allowing networks to operate if they have a pending bid for franchise renewal before Congress.
“We’re still waiting for the reply of the DOJ because the said understanding and position for the operation of a network is under consultation pa with the DOJ,” Buenviaje told the panel.
Alvarez said the panel will study what can be done in case the DOJ issues a ruling that networks may not operate without a franchise because it has not happened before.
The network and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence Inc., are subject of a quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida who wants the franchise granted by Congress revoked by the Supreme Court, on the ground that ABS-CBN violated the terms of its franchise and foreign ownership regulation.