MANILA - Three leaders of the House of Representatives stressed Wednesday the urgency in addressing the COVID-19 crisis amid calls for Congress to act on bills granting ABS-CBN a fresh 25-year broadcast franchise.
Backing Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano's position that only through an "impartial" hearing devoid of pressure from any group can the House reach a fair decision on the fate of ABS-CBN’s franchise, three of his deputies "agreed that the welfare of the Filipino people should be placed ahead of all other interests in this time of crisis spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic."
For Deputy Speakers Roberto Puno, Raneo Abu, and Dan Fernandez, the House should prioritize the response of government to the current public health crisis.
“Congress will not abandon its task of deciding on the issue of ABS-CBN’s franchise. But what we should keep in mind is that we have other more important and urgent concerns, such as addressing the impact of COVID-19 on our economy and our people, that we need to resolve first,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez' home province of Laguna will remain under a modified enhanced community quarantine from May 16 to 31.
Puno, of Antipolo City's 1st District, said the House needs to attend to its job of saving lives and helping businesses survive the pandemic-induced crisis, and should not be pressured by any group into diverting its attention from this responsibility.
“We are all aware that the issue of ABS-CBN’s franchise is an important one that affects the future of many employees. However, we should clearly define our priorities at this critical time--and that priority is for the House of Representatives to develop a comprehensive recovery plan that will ensure that no Filipino is left behind in our efforts to reenergize our economy and rebuild communities after COVID-19,” he said.
Abu, who represents the 2nd District of Batangas, said those clamoring for the House to immediately discuss the ABS-CBN franchise should be reminded that a hearing does not mean that this issue would be promptly resolved.
“What they are forgetting is that we cannot just rush the process to favor ABS-CBN. Congress needs to hear all sides of the issue to be able to decide fairly and objectively on the matter,” he said.
“Conducting a hearing is not a magic pill that will instantly cure ABS-CBN’s franchise woes. We should all remember that evidence and facts need to be presented, those who favor the renewal and those who oppose it should be both allowed to voice their positions."
ABS-CBN was forced off the air last week after the National Telecommunications Commission went back on its word to allow the network to provisionally operate past the expiry of its franchise on May 4.
Several lawmakers and rights groups criticized the NTC's move to shut down the network's broadcast operations during a pandemic.
ABS-CBN has since asked the Supreme Court to halt the NTC's cease and desist order. The high court will tackle the petition on May 19.
--Report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News