MANILA - An author of the 9th bill seeking to grant ABS-CBN Corp. a fresh 25-year franchise called on the House of Representatives to think of the workers who may be displaced in case the company does not get a fresh mandate to use state-owned frequencies for its radio and television operations.
Speaking to ABS-CBN on Tuesday, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said they in the Makabayan bloc thought of the impact on the livelihood of the employees when they filed their own version of the ABS-CBN franchise bill.
"Siyempre, ang main concern din natin diyan kung di ma-renew ay yung thousands of employees, and several thousands na dependent din doon sa kabuhayan nila sa mga empleyado ng ABS-CBN," Zarate said.
(Of course, our main concern there if it’s not renewed are the thousands of employees, and several thousand others who depend on the employees of ABS-CBN.)
"Sa panahon ngayon, ang daming walang trabaho, and daming lumalabas na kababayan natin dahil sa kawalan ng trabaho sa ating bansa. Madadagdag pa ito," he said.
(In these times, so many have no jobs, and so many of our countrymen are going abroad because they can’t find jobs in our country. And you will add these workers.)
"So, ito dapat ang tingnan rin ng Kongreso."
(“So, this is what Congress should look into.”)
Zarate said that while the owners of ABS-CBN "can defend themselves" and "shift their business model if they want to" if no fresh franchise is granted, the workers cannot easily transfer jobs.
The bill cites the company's report to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Philippine Stock Exchange that it has 6,730 regular employees, 900 non-regular workers, and more than 3,325 talents.
Zarate said the non-issuance of a new franchise "just because the President is mad, in our view, violates the right of the people to fair information."
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said he will block the renewal of ABS-CBN's franchise as he accused the network of failing to air a 2016 presidential campaign advertisement, among other issues. He recently advised the owners to just sell the company.
Zarate said a denial of the franchise is "also an attack on the right to freedom of expression," which "is enshrined in our Constitution."
Malacañang has maintained that ABS-CBN's franchise is not about press freedom, but on possible violations of the company's franchise, which is a privilege granted and regulated by the state.
"Ang hamon nga natin sa Kongreso: Meron nang 9 separate bills na naihain, at na-refer na ito sa Committee on Franchise; dinggin na ito. Pakinggan ng Kongreso kung nararapat bang i-renew o hindi, at hindi sabihin na pabayaan na lang 'yun dahil (ang) gusto ng Presidente (ay) ayaw i-renew ang franchise ng ABS-CBN," Zarate said.
(Our challenge to Congress: There are 9 separate bills already filed, and referred to the Committee on Franchise; they should be tackled already. Congress should conduct hearings whether or not it is right to grant a renewal, and not just leave those unacted upon only because the President does not want to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN.)
Congress is set to adjourn on March 14.
“Alam naman natin (na) dito sa Kongreso, ang daming franchise dito na pinapasa ... every now and then. Why single out ABS-CBN just because meron ngang sinabi si Presidente? Ang hamon nga namin: Exercise your power to hear and to determine if wala nga talaga bang basis to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN,” said Zarate.
(We all know that here in Congress, many franchise bills are being approved… every now and then. Why single out ABS-CBN just because the President has issued a statement against it? Our challenge is, exercise your power to hear and to determine whether there is really no basis to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN.)
Anak Kalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor also believes the bills should be subjected to hearing. “I think the request of everyone is just for it to be heard," he said.
"Kung aprubahan naman ng Kongreso, nasa kay Presidente naman ang karapatan para i-veto ang batas na ito.”
(If Congress approves it, the President has the right to veto the bill.)
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano last week allayed fears that Congress is running out of time to tackle the ABS-CBN franchise bills. He said the franchise committee could start the hearings early next month.
Meanwhile, The Green Thumb Coalition (GTC), a nationwide coalition of environmental organizations, called on the government to renew ABS-CBN’s broadcast franchise.
"It is a vital part of environmental advocacy that resulted in increased awareness to address issues and mobilize the citizenry towards critical engagement and environmental governance," the group said of ABS-CBN.
"GTC is reminded of the critical persistence and dedication of the late Gina Lopez, who had been instrumental in shaping much of the public service programs of ABS-CBN that continue to this day," it added.
Other pending bills in Congress are also seeking fresh franchises for ABS-CBN's Cable TV, UHF Free TV Operations, and Data Services, which are set to expire in March 2020, July 2020, and June 2022, respectively.
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