MANILA (5th UPDATE) - The House of Representatives Committee of the Whole on Wednesday approved on second reading a bill that gives ABS-CBN Corp. a provisional franchise until October 2020.
The measure, House Bill 6732 (HB6732), was filed by House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, as he cited the need for Congress to focus on addressing the coronavirus crisis and giving it sufficient time to tackle the network's "controversial" application for a fresh 25-year franchise.
"Through this measure, we hope to strike a balance between the immediate needs of the people amid this crisis and the duty of Congress to ensure accountability to our present laws," read the bill.
Following its approval on second reading, HB6732 will then be scheduled for third reading for its approval by the House of Representatives. The approved bill will then be transmitted to the Senate for its concurrence.
"At the Senate, a bill undergoes the same process as that of the House of Representatives. If a bill is approved by the Senate, copies of the bill, signed by the Senate President and Speaker of the House of the Representatives, will be transmitted to the President for his action. If a bill is approved by the President, it generally becomes law after its publication," ABS-CBN said in a disclosure to the stock exchange on Thursday.
Cagayan De Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, in an interview on Teleradyo, said the chamber is now preparing a committee report, which shall then be presented before the House plenary.
"We welcome this. It was a surprise but we were pleasantly surprised because there is now a bill to give a provisional franchise to ABS-CBN," said Rodriguez in a separate interview on ANC.
"... It's just a few months but it's good enough so we can restore ABS-CBN to the airwaves," he said.
He said, once finalized in the House, the bill will be sent to the Senate so the chamber "can already act on it."
Senators said on Wednesday they would pass the bill before the session break in June.
HB 6732 grants ABS-CBN provisional franchise to operate until October 31, 2020, before Congress deliberates on long-pending bills giving the media giant license to broadcast for another 25 years.
The interim license will "give both the House of Representatives and the Senate [time] to hear the issues being raised for and against the renewal, and assess, with complete impartiality and fairness, whether or not the network shall be granted a franchise for another 25 years."
"We cannot, in good conscience, sweep the accusations under the rug," read the bill's explanatory note.
ABS-CBN earlier answered questions on alleged franchise violations and tax liabilities before the Senate, saying it has not violated any law.
The bill was co-sponsored by Representatives Neptali Gonzalez, Raneo Abu, Roberto Puno, Dan Fernandez, LRay Villafuerte Jr., Ferdinand Romualdez, and Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado.
In a sponsorship speech before the House Committee of the Whole, Cayetano vowed "fair, impartial and, above all, thorough" hearings on the 25-year franchise bills, when they are eventually taken up.
"There will be no rush judgment. Both the praise for and the charges against the network will be heard and will be put on public record," Cayetano said.
"Whatever the outcome of these hearings will be, there will be reforms. There must be, not just a new, but a better normal. Not only for ABS-CBN, but for the entire media industry," he said.
Responsibility to the Public
Section 4 of the bill, titled "Responsibility to the Public," provides that ABS-CBN give, free of charge, "adequate public service time" that is "reasonable and sufficient" for government to reach the public for critical "announcements and warnings concerning public emergencies and calamities as necessity, urgency or law require."
It also mandates ABS-CBN to "provide at all times sound and balanced programming; promote public participation; assist in the functions of public information and education; conform to the ethics of honest enterprise; promote audience sensibility and empowerment through, but not limited to, closed captioning; and not use its stations or facilities for the broadcasting of obscene and indecent language, speech, act or scene; or for the dissemination of deliberately false information or willful misrepresentation, to the detriment of the public interest, or to incite, encourage, or assist in subversive or treasonable acts."
It also provides that 10 percent of air time for advertisements be allocated as public service time for government announcements. It may be increased on NTC's orders during emergencies.
President may take over or suspend operations in times of war, disaster
The interim franchise bill will also give the President the "special right" to "temporarily take over and operate" ABS-CBN's stations and facilities in times of "war, rebellion, public peril, calamity, emergency, disaster or disturbance of peace and order," or else suspend its broadcast operations "in the interest of public safety, security and public welfare."
The measure also empowers the President to "authorize the temporary use and operation thereof by any agency of the government, upon due compensation to the grantee, for the use of said stations or facilities during the period when they shall be so operated.
The House Speaker earlier said starting hearings on ABS-CBN franchise bills would not mean an "automatic" grant of a fresh broadcast license.
The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) ordered ABS-CBN to stop broadcasting on May 5, a day after its franchise expired.
The directive went against NTC's earlier commitment of giving "provisional authority" for the network to operate beyond its franchise validity.
The House franchise panel last Monday ordered NTC to justify its cease and desist order against ABS-CBN, calling the telecoms regulatory body's halt directive an "undue interference on and disobedience to the exercise of the power of the House of Representatives."
Solicitor General Jose Calida was also accused of pressuring NTC to order the shutdown of ABS-CBN, based on a document obtained by ABS-CBN News.
ABS-CBN's halt in broadcast last week was the first time it was forced to sign off since the Marcos dictatorship. The shutdown imperils an estimated 11,000 jobs.
It has asked the Supreme Court to stop the NTC shutdown order.
The network, which reached millions of Filipinos through its television, radio and online platforms, said it did not violate the law in its 65 years of service.
News.abs-cbn.com is the general news website of ABS-CBN Corp.
- With a report from Jauhn Villaruel, ABS-CBN News