House set to tackle franchise bills in August

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    THE House of Representatives can begin tackling bills seeking to extend the legislative franchise of ABC-CBN Corporation only in the first week of August, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said yesterday.

    The network’s 25-year franchise is set to expire on March 30.

    Cayetano said August will be the ideal month to start tackling the bills because is within the longest period in the legislative calendar, which is uninterrupted by recess — July to October.

    “This isn’t a teleserye which is kept hanging. If we hear it for two weeks and there’s not enough time because we’re taking a recess or even if we continue hearing during recess, we still can’t bring it to the plenary, nothing will happen (because Congress is on a break),” he said.

    Cayetano also said the network will not stop operating after its franchise expires. He said the House leadership has an understanding with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) that ABS-CBN’s operations will not be shut down while the bills are being tackled in Congress.

    But Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the NTC sought his department’s opinion on whether the network may continue to operate after March 30.

    “We received the request last Tuesday afternoon and we hope to reply by next week. We are currently working on the opinion sought by the NTC,” Guevarra said.

    Cayetano, in a chance interview in Zambales, said hearings on the franchise bills may start in August “because the last week of July is for the SONA (state of the nation address) so we’ll tackle it right after the SONA, objectively, it’s early August.”

    He made the statement after Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go urged the House to tackle the franchise bills soon, stressing that President Duterte – who has been threatening to have the franchise extension bid rejected – does not really want ABS-CBN to shut down operations.

    Cayetano said it would be better to hold uninterrupted hearings so the matter could be disposed of in time.

    “In my experience in Congress it’s best to finish whatever we start,” he said, insisting that the TV network will not be shut down even if its franchise is only until March 30.

    “We don’t want other priorities that are more urgent to take the back seat. Why do I say that these are more urgent (than the franchise bills)? Because ABS-CBN will not close down,” he added.

    The network and its subsidiary ABS-CBN Convergence Inc. are subject of a quo warranto petition filed last week 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.

    President Duterte has repeatedly expressed his ire at the network for its refusal to air 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.

    CONSTITUTIONAL VIOLATION

    Cayetano 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.

    “I’m just baffled at Sen. Grace Poe and our senators. They don’t want discussions when it’s about Charter change but they feel free to violate the Constitution. What does the Constitution say? Didn’t I agree with Senate President (Vicente) Sotto (III) when he said that there was nothing for them to hear yet?” he said.

    The Senate committee on public service chaired by Poe is set to open hearings on the franchise renewal bids of ABS-CBN and other companies on Monday.

    Cayetano also slammed Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, a leader of the opposition, for accusing him of trying to stop the discussions on the franchise bill, saying “it’s nice to know who are eager to please the network from both Houses of Congress.”

    Lagman said Go’s move to ask the House to consider soonest the issue of the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise “appears to have the blessing of President Rodrigo Duterte since Go is a very close confidante of the President.”

    Lagman said the feared imminent closure of the giant network “has galvanized multi-sectoral support for the renewal of its franchise.”

    “It is high time that the Duterte administration defuses a possible nationwide protest that can have adverse consequences,” he said. – With Ashzel Hachero