Drilon, Pangilinan push for bill requiring Congress to act fast on franchise applications

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 04 2020 12:37 AM

MANILA - Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan on Wednesday sponsored in plenary a bill that mandates Congress to immediately act on pending franchise applications and renewal bids to "avoid situations where silence or inaction could effectively bar the operations of an enterprise."

Senate Bill No. 1530, which amends provisions in the Administrative Code of the Philippines to make "it incumbent upon the issuing authority to act on an application."

"We seek to correct this error not only to uphold the right to free speech and expression, but equally important, the right of the people to correct, relevant, timely, and accurate information," Pangilinan said in his sponsorship speech.

"This right to truth is especially important now as the pandemic continues to claim lives because truth and accurate information save lives," he said, noting that the House of Representatives' inaction on the franchise renewal bid of ABS-CBN has led to the closure of the broadcast operations of the Philippines' largest network.

ABS-CBN application for a fresh 25-year broadcast franchise expired on May 4, 2020, 6 years after it first lodged its renewal documents in the House of Representatives.

Legislators have traditionally allowed companies to operate beyond the expiration date of their franchises, provided that their renewal application is still pending in Congress.

But the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) yanked ABS-CBN off the air on May 5 through a cease and desist order as the current law remains silent on how to treat companies whose franchises expired while Congress is still tackling the measure. 

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who authored the bill, said the measure does not intend to do away with franchises.

"The amendment we propose would merely encourage the concerned agency or branch of government to act decisively on an application for renewal, and to express its decision in clear, unmistakable terms, to ensure that the applicant is not punished for the authority’s indecision or inaction," Drilon said in the bill's explanatory note.

The proposed amendment will cover public service franchises such as power, water, transport and communications.

The Senate is expected to debate on the measure during the 18th Congress' second regular session, which will begin on July 27, 2020.