Gov’t use of ABS-CBN’s TV, radio frequencies proposed

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    AN administration lawmaker wants government to temporarily use ABS-CBN’s former TV and radio frequencies to provide alternative distance learning modes for students for the next school year.

    Deputy speaker Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte has filed House Resolution No. 1044 which he said would help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the country’s education system.

    “Exhausting all possible delivery modes such as the use of untapped television and radio frequencies as those vacated by ABS-CBN is important in keeping students engaged amid the learning crisis sweeping across the globe as a result of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak,” he said in the bill.

    The measure was filed in the wake of the decision of the House committee on legislative franchises to deny ABS-CBN Corp. of its bid to have its 25-year franchise renewed. The network’s franchise expired on May 4.

    Villafuerte said the unused frequencies of the giant network may also be used for information on COVID-19 prevention and control, risk reduction, and preparedness.

    Citing a World Bank report, Villafuerte said the pandemic “is causing more than 1.6 billion children and youth to be out of school in 161 countries or around 80 percent of the world’s students.”

    “Inequality and inaccessibility of opportunities such as those pertaining to internet connectivity and possession of a laptop pose a variety of challenges for teachers and learners,” he noted.

    Thus, “the reduction in losses in learning require creativity in remote learning strategies,” such as tapping radio and TV as alternative media for teaching purposes, Villafuerte said.

    The Department of Education (DepEd) is working to transition the modality of teaching from the conventional “face-to-face” learning to blended learning, which is a combination of online distance learning and in-person delivery of learning materials to the homes of the learners to ensure that students are able to continue their education even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Villafuerte said the former frequencies used by ABS-CBN will be especially useful in areas not yet reached by digital infrastructure, such as some of the communities in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARRM).

    Villafuerte, who was among the 70 legislators who voted to deny ABS-CBN of franchise renewal, said the decision was a “tough and difficult one” and was reached after exhaustive discussions in 13 panel hearings on a myriad of issues, including tax evasion and the US citizenship of its chairman emeritus Eugenio Gabriel Lopez III.

    Villafuerte slammed critics of the committee decision, saying they are “mistakenly praising the 11 who had voted for the renewal of the franchise and pillorying the 70 who had been brave enough to stand by their conviction.”

    He advised critics to read and study the committee report in its entirety “before shooting from the hip, as they have been wont to do in their incessant attacks against the Duterte administration and the House leadership.”

    At the Senate, minority leader Franklin Drilon said ABS-CBN Corp. an question the legality of the House panel’s decision.

    He said under the Constitution, the House as a whole should be the one to decide on a franchise and not a committee.

    “As to whether this is valid under the Constitution is an unsettled issue. In other words, the Constitution says that Congress should act on franchises. But in this particular case it is the committee. So, that is an open issue that which the applicant (ABS-CBN Corp.) may avail of in order to find out what is the real decision of the House, not of the committee,” Drilon said at a weekly forum.

    He also said under House rules, “unfavorable” committee reports are no longer deliberated in the plenary.

    “I am not saying that the rules of the House are unconstitutional. I am just saying it is a good issue to be taken up so that at least the people will know if the report of the committee reflects the sentiment of the entire House of Representatives, which under the Constitution will decide on this (franchise renewal),” he said.

    Drilon, however, said ABS-CBN must not expect this to work in its favor.

    The Department of Labor and Employment has directed in National Capital Region Office to determine the exact number of ABS-CBN employees, who they are, and what is the nature of their employment in anticipation of a layoff. – With Raymond Africa and Gerard Naval