House panel urged to tackle bills on ABS-CBN franchise

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    BY WENDELL VIGILIA and RAYMOND AFRICA

    NINETY-ONE lawmakers have signed a House resolution urging the committee on legislative franchise to immediately report out the consolidated version of bills seeking to extend the franchise of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp., Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said yesterday.

    Of the 91 signatories to House Resolution No. 639, eight are deputy speakers, 21 are committee chairpersons, 12 are members of the committee on rules, and 65 are members of the majority, said Lagman who is opposing a proposal for Congress to ask the National Telecommunications Communications Commission to issue ABS-CBN a “provisional authority to operate” beyond March 30, the date its franchise lapses.

    At the Senate, majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said hearings on the franchise issue are set to start on February 27.

    Zubiri’s announcement came after Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate public services committee, said the panel will hear bills seeking to renew the franchise of the TV network even if the House, from which franchise bills should emanate, has yet to start its own inquiry.

    Poe said the House and the Senate have simultaneously heard priority bills, like the national budget and on taxes.

    ABS-CBN is being accused by Solicitor General Calida of violating its franchise. Last week, Calida filed a quo warranto petition asking the Supreme Court to revoke the 25-year franchise granted by Congress.

    Some lawmakers are saying the TV network can continue operating until 2022 while the bills seeking a franchise renewal remain pending.

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III believes Poe can conduct hearings on the alleged franchise violations but not on the franchise renewal without a bill from the House.

    “To be very honest about it, I cannot agree or disagree… bills of local application must emanate from the House,” he said.

    Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon filed a joint resolution that seeks to extend the franchise of ABS-CBN Corporation up to the end of 2022.

    In Senate Joint Resolution No. 11, Drilon said both the Senate and the House of Representatives need additional time to determine if ABS-CBN shall be granted a franchise renewal.

    He noted there are only 12 session days left before the next adjournment of Congress scheduled on March 14.

    “On March 30, 2020, more than 11,000 families will go home jobless and millions of viewers will be affected if we do not act on this resolution immediately, I therefore urge for the immediate passage of this resolution,” Drilon said.

    At the House, Lagman said NTC cannot “resurrect” an expired legislative franchise of a former grantee because “only holders of a valid, existing and/or renewed franchise can apply with the NTC for a certificate of public convenience and necessity.”

    Lagman said instead of giving ABS-CBN an “illusory remedy,” the House must expedite the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise.

    Lagman said the opinion that a franchisee can continue its operations as long as it has a pending application for renewal and the current Congress has not adjourned sine die “is based on an alleged practice which can be challenged in court because it is not validated by jurisprudence.”

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