THE House committee on legislative franchises finally starts today its hearings into ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation’s franchise renewal and check with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) its power to grant the network a provisional authority to continue operating beyond the expiry of its franchise on May 4.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said ABS-CBN management will not be invited to the hearing yet because having both those for and against the franchise renewal in one hearing then immediately go on a congressional break would only lead to a “word war” in the next five weeks of congressional recess.
The panel is also expected tackle the labor issues raised against the network giant and allegations that its news coverage in three previous national elections had been bias in favor of some candidates.
The hearing was scheduled after President Duterte accepted the apology of the media network last February 26 while rejecting the P2.6-million refund for its failure to air some of his local political ads during the campaign for the 2016 presidential elections.
The President has already instructed ABS-CBN to just donate the amount to any charity institution it chooses.
Last February 24, the House panel held an informal proceeding to tackle the ABS-CBN franchise bills where congressmen panel asked stakeholders to submit their position papers on the issue.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said today’s hearing appears to be “cosmetic and inconsequential” because the merits of 11 bills seeking to renew the television network’s franchise were not even included in the agenda.
“The merits of the 11 pending renewal bills are not set for deliberation and consideration even as the principal officers of ABS-CBN Corporation were not called to the hearing to justify the application for renewal,” Lagman said in a statement.
Lagman, an opposition lawmaker and an author of one of the pending bills, said House Resolution No. 639, which was signed by 91 lawmakers, is not even in the panel’s agenda.
The measure urges the committee on legislative franchises to immediately act on the pending bills seeking to extend the network’s congressional franchise.
“It is well-settled in law and jurisprudence that only an applicant which has an existing and valid franchise can secure from NTC a provisional authority or a certificate of public convenience and necessity,” Lagman also said.
A consumer group asked lawmakers not to allow themselves to be influenced by alleged efforts in the executive and judicial branches to deny the network of due process.
“The House of Representatives should be fair and listen carefully to the pros and cons of each individual or group request to renew ABS-CBN Corp’s franchise. Hindi dapat sila bumaba sa dikta ng Malacañang (They should not bow down to the dictates of Malacañang),” said Louie Montemar, Convenor ng Bantay Konsumer, Kuryente, Kalsada (BK3).
The group agreed with the view of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra that broadcast companies like ABS-CBN should not be punished with stoppage for lack of congressional action on bids for franchise renewal.