Lawmakers push 'pantawid' measures as ABS-CBN franchise hangs in balance

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 27 2020 11:50 AM | Updated as of Feb 27 2020 12:13 PM

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MANILA – Several measures were made by the Senate to ensure that ABS-CBN will continue to operate even after its franchise expires in May, Senator Risa Hontiveros said on Thursday.

“Bukod nga sa joint resolution na finile ni Sen. Frank [Drilon], may concurrent resolution din so there are several layers of extra efforts to ensure na 'yung naaantalang franchise renewal debate sa ngayon sa Kongreso that there will be in a way ‘pantawid’ until the time that we can properly exercise our mandate,” Hontiveros said.

On Wednesday, Drilon filed a concurrent resolution seeking to allow ABS-CBN to operate under the terms of its existing franchise. It also urges the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to grant a provisional authority to the network to operate while its application for renewal is still being deliberated in Congress. 

A concurrent resolution expresses the sentiment of lawmakers and is different from a joint resolution, which has the force of the law.

The Minority Leader earlier filed a joint resolution seeking to extend the network’s franchise until the end of 2022 as bills for a fresh 25-year license remain pending at the House of Representatives.

Also on Wednesday, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises asked the NTC to issue the media giant a provisional permit to operate past its franchise expiration on May 4.

"I would rather look at it positively na dahil nga we are somehow prevented from acting in a timely fashion on what should be another quarter century franchise renewal application, at the very least may pantawid," she said.

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno earlier cited a 2003 High Court decision that the NTC cannot grant provisional authority if there is no franchise.

"Tama rin si CJ Puno na usually nauuna ang franchise or franchise renewal, sumusunod 'yung provisional authority," Hontiveros said. 

"Medyo nababaliktad 'yung normal order of things siguro dahil we are living in extraordinary times. But nonetheless, sa tingin namin sa Senado kailangang i-assert yung mandate and authority namin on franchise issue at mas malawak pa na importante we need to put ourselves on the record as standing up for freedom of the press and democracy in general na tingin ko ay yun talaga ang mga core issues at stake here."

Hontiveros likewise hopes that the Senate had set the stronger precedent by standing up to assert the legislature's right to tackle and decide on the issue.

"But while we are prevented from doing so, naghanap kami ng iba pang constitutional and legislative instruments para hindi maiwan lang sa mercies ng executive ang isang broadcasting network na dapat sa legislature dumudulog at hindi muna sa executive," she said.

Hontiveros said the Senate's hearing into ABS-CBN's compliance with its current franchise is their way to "regain and keep the balance as institutions."

"Yun ang effort namin sa Senado sa nakaraang hearing and with that balance, with both our feet planted firmly on the ground, then humakbang tayo, let's move forward, determine na huwag nang maulit dapat 'yung ganitong mga sitwasyon na medyo sinubukang isandal sa pader ang mass media o pilayin 'yung independence ninyo," she said.

The Senate on Monday conducted the inquiry even as the House of Representatives has yet to act on several measures seeking a fresh 25-year license for ABS-CBN.

In the hearing, ABS-CBN executives asserted the company has complied with the law. Also, an official of the Bureau of Internal Revenue said ABS-CBN Corp. regularly pays taxes. The Securities and Exchange Commission for its part said it is not aware of any violation or ongoing complaint or investigation involving the company.

"Moving forward, we would be even more not just vigilant but effective in defending sabi nga nung ilang authors 'democratic guardrails', 'yung mga harang para hindi mahulog ang ating demokrasya sa bangin ng sobrang kapangyarihan ng iisang branch of government lang," Hontiveros said on ANC's Headstart.

ABS-CBN has been facing threats and attempts of a shutdown from no less than President Rodrigo Duterte. But the President's camp has denied a hand in the delay. The President also said he will not interfere in ABS-CBN's application for franchise renewal.

Hontiveros said she was satisfied with the answers given by resource persons from the Kapamilya network about issues surrounding the franchise renewal bill.

"I am hoping that moving forward, this will really influence positively yung opinion environment sa atin bansa na ma-recover ng legislature yung aming original exclusive mandate to hear these franchise issues and strike a blow, claim a victory for freedom of the press, and broadly for democracy," she said.