MANILA (3rd UPDATE) - The House of Representatives on Tuesday decided to stop deliberations on a provisional franchise for ABS-CBN Corp, opting instead to hear bills for a 25-year franchise.
Speaking to the plenary, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said they have decided to forego the provisional franchise- a proposal he led giving ABS-CBN license until October 2020- citing the divisiveness it has brought to the chamber.
"Because of all this divisiveness and after consulting with the members of the House, the political parties, and the regional groups… I, together with the House of Representatives leadership have decided to forego with the provisional franchise, and immediately proceed with the hearings for the full 25-year renewal application of the ABS-CBN franchise," he said.
The proposed provisional franchise was passed on first and second reading on the same day last week, but the House opted to reopen the period of debates and amendments Monday to avoid possible legal questions.
Cayetano said the bills for the ABS-CBN franchise renewal will be tackled by the House Committee on Legislative Franchises.
He said the panel should "immediately and continuously hold hearings until everyone is heard."
The chamber is set to go on break on June 5 and will come back when session reopens on the fourth week of July, when the President delivers his State of the Nation Address.
"And after everyone is heard, then we can decide," he said.
The Speaker later said in an interview with ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo that hearings would continue even during the session break.
"Magsisimula na po next week (ang hearings) at hindi po sila titigil hanggang tapos na. Hinihiling ko po na lahat makapagsalita, pati po 'yung maanghang ang salita, we will ask them to follow the right decorum. But we will allow them to speak," he said.
(The hearings will start next week and they won't stop until this issue is finished. I'm asking that everyone will be able to speak, even those who have harsh words, we will ask them to follow the right decorum. But we will allow them to speak.)
Cayetano said that the House hearings on ABS-CBN's franchise renewal will be similar to special sessions the chamber had conducted for the government's COVID-19 response.
"Katulad naman nung ginawa naman natin sa disease COVID-19 committee, kahit na break nung 6 weeks during ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), tuloy-tuloy ang hearing natin. So, there'll be probably be a hybrid (session), minsan kailangan 'yung resource person nandito mismo. Ba't yung ibang hearing, we can do in Zoom or teleconferencing," he said.
(What we did at the COVID-19 committee, even if we had 6 weeks of break during the ECQ, our hearings will be continuous. So, there'll probably be a hybrid session, sometimes the resource person will be on the floor himself. But other hearings, we can do in Zoom or teleconferencing.)
Cayetano said the hearings likely won't reach the end of July.
"Napakahaba na nun (That's too long)," he said, adding issues surrounding the broadcast giant's franchise renewal won't need lengthy deliberations.
Hearings on the franchise renewal bills will be held 2 to 3 times a week along with other bills, Cayetano said in another interview on ABS-CBN's TV Patrol.
The Speaker admitted the issue on ABS-CBN's franchise renewal is "emotionally heavy" for the network's workers, viewers and supporters, but he stressed that the country is still facing the threat of the fast-spreading COVID-19, forcing the chamber to allot some of their time on programs against the pandemic.
"Sana po magkaisa tayo dito. Pagdasal niyo din po kami, baka makahanap po tayo ng isang paraan na magsama-sama tayo kahit sa issue na 'to. But in the meantime po, we will have the hearings," he said.
(I hope all of us will unite on this. Please also pray for us, that we may find a solution that will unite us on this issue. But in the meantime, we will have the hearings.)
Opposition to bill abandonment
Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers lamented the dropping of the provisional franchise bill.
In a statement, Rep. Edcel Lagman said the abandonment of House Bill 6732 underscores the failure of the House leadership, considering that it was Cayetano himself who sponsored the bill.
"This abandonment underscores the failure of leadership in the House after no less than Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano principally authored and passionately sponsored the ill-fated interim franchise whose approval was recommended by the “Committee of the Whole”, which is rarely constituted," he said.
He also said that the abandonment of the provisional franchise will greatly affect the company and its employees.
"The abandonment of HB No. 6732 quashes the hope for the resumption of ABS-CBN’s operation, albeit on a provisional franchise, for the benefit of the public and the networks’ employees," Lagman said.
Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas, for her part, urged her fellow lawmakers to act on the company's franchise renewal as soon as possible for the benefit of the public.
"What the House did was to suspend the hopes of the 11,000 ABS-CBN workers in mid-air while the country’s largest network will remain off-air. Ang panawagan natin sa Gabriela Women’s Party: Ibalik sa ere ang ABS-CBN. Subalit bakit tila iniiwan natin sa ere ang libo-libong manggagawa ng ABS-CBN na apektado rin ng pandemya?" she said in her manifestation.
(We in Gabriel Women's Party call for ABS-CBN to be back on air, but why does it seem like we just left thousands of ABS-CBN employees hanging, when they and their families are also affected by the pandemic?)
She added the House of Representatives is doing the public a disservice if it would continue to sit on the issue of the company's franchise.
"Walang mawawala sa gobyerno at sambayanan sa ngayon kung hahayaan na makabalik sa ere ang ABS-CBN hanggang Oktubre. (The government and the public will not lose anything if we let ABS-CBN to go back on air until October.) On the contrary, the House would be doing a disservice to the Filipino people if it will continue to sit on the network’s franchise, as millions of Filipinos in far-flung areas are deprived of vital news and information amid the pandemic," Brosas said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, likewise, said the House should act on the matter urgently and prove the Congress' jurisdiction on the issue.
"Let us prove to the public and to other government agencies that Congress has indeed primary jurisdiction over franchises of this nature," he said in a statement.
"We must act urgently on this matter, as we also similarly act with urgency on the other pressing matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis it spawned, in the service of the Filipino," Zarate added.
In his proposal last week, Cayetano said granting ABS-CBN provisional franchise would allow Congress to focus on response to the coronavirus pandemic and time to thoroughly discuss issues against ABS-CBN.
On Monday, lawmakers raised charges ABS-CBN has already answered in a Senate hearing in February, including tax and labor issues of which government officials have themselves cleared the network.
ABS-CBN's broadcast operations were halted on May 5 on orders of the National Telecommunications Commission, which issued a cease and desist order after the network's franchise lapsed on May 4.
Bills for the renewal of ABS-CBN's broadcast license have been pending for years. Its shutdown puts at risk some 11,000 jobs, with the network's President and CEO Carlo Katigbak telling a Senate hearing earlier Tuesday that it may consider layoffs by August if it remains off the air.
- reports from Rose Carmelle Lacuata and Gabriel Agcaoili, ABS-CBN News