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Congress urged to decide on ABS-CBN franchise renewal bills on merits

Members of various media groups hold a candle-lighting activity in front of ABS-CBN Corp. on Friday as they called on Congress to tackle the broadcast network's franchise renewal applications. House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said on January 22, 2020 that the House of Representatives has enough time to tackle the various franchise applications. ABS-CBN's franchise expires at the end of March this year. Jeff Canoy, ABS-CBN News

MANILA—Journalists on Friday gathered in front of the ABS-CBN office in Quezon City to drum up public support behind a petition urging Congress to extend the news network’s franchise, which President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to block.

An online petition launched last week has gathered more than 150,000 signatures, said Nonoy Espina, whose National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) is leading a weekly “Black Friday” protest against the administration’s pressure on ABS-CBN.

The group expects more signatures to come in as the March 31, 2020 deadline for the franchise renewal nears.

“I think there will be a snowball effect because people really care,” Espina said.

But the decision on whether to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise for another 25 years will ultimately depend on Congress and the president, who has repeatedly threatened to shut down the network for failing to air a political ad in the 2016 elections, among other issues.

Espina urged congressmen to “study the bills on their merits and then decide.”

“Do not decide on the whims of one man even if that man is the president,” he said.

At least 8 bills for ABS-CBN's continued broadcast operation have been pending before the House committee on legislative franchises.

Journalists from different news outlets lit candles and signed the NUJP-led petition outside the ABS-CBN compound.

Espina took the opportunity to also gather support for slain broadcaster Gerry Ortega, who was gunned down in Palawan 9 years ago.

Last month, the Court of Appeals reversed a previous ruling and revived the murder case against the alleged mastermind, former Palawan Gov. Mario Joel Reyes.

“Hopefully, mapagulong na ang katarungan dito at sana makamtan na ni Doc Gerry and matagal nang inaantay nating katarungan,” Espina said.

Last Wednesday, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the House has enough time to consider not only ABS-CBN franchise renewal bills but other franchise applications.

He said he expects hearings on as many as 50 franchise applications to begin next month.

“I’ll just reiterate that we have committed to the Filipino people that we will have fair hearings, that we will hear the issues and also hear the replies, and we cannot promise you any decision until we finish the hearings, to be fair with everyone," he said.

When pressed by reporters if there is enough time to decide on the franchise bills considering Congress will go on its summer recess by March 11, Cayetano said: “We have enough time. Kung 'yung budget na P4.1 trillion natapos natin ng isang buwan, 'yun pa kayang franchise na siguro, sobra 'yung [sa] issues, 2-3 hearings sobrang exhaustive na 'yun.”

ABS-CBN operates free TV Channel 2 and Radio DZMM.

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