Lawmakers lament abandonment of ABS-CBN provisional franchise bill


Posted at May 19 2020 09:56 PM

MANILA - Some members of the House of Representatives on Tuesday lamented the dropping of a provisional franchise bill for ABS-CBN's broadcast operations, after the majority of the House decided instead to hear bills for a 25-year franchise. 

Rep. Edcel Lagman said the abandonment of the provisional franchise bill will greatly affect the company and its employees.

"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 in a statement.

"The abandonment of HB No. 6732 quashes the hope for the resumption of ABS-CBN’s operations, albeit on a provisional franchise, for the benefit of the public and the networks’ employees," Lagman said.

According to Lagman, the provisional franchise was an ideal compromise to allow the company to resume operations while deliberations on its full 25-year franchise are ongoing.

"There is no overriding reason to abandon HB No. 6732 except for a furtive and sinister outside interference in the discharge of the constitutional duty of the House," he said.

Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas, for her part, urged her fellow lawmakers to act on ABS-CBN's broadcast franchise renewal as soon as possible for the benefit of the public.

"Bakit tila iniiwan natin sa ere ang libo-libong manggagawa ng ABS-CBN na apektado rin ng pandemya?" she said in her manifestation.

(Why does it seem like we just left thousands of ABS-CBN employees hanging, when they 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 Congress' jurisdiction on the issue.

"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 said in a statement.

Zarate said he, along with other Makabayan lawmakers, filed a bill for the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN, yet he could have voted in favor of the provisional franchise as it would allow the company to resume operations.

"Together with the Makabayan representatives, I filed House Bill No. 6052 on January 27, 2020, which bill sought to grant Applicant another 25 years of franchise. Yet, I supported HB 6732, if only to allow ABS-CBN to immediately go back on air while the renewal bills are still being deliberated," he said.

"While I can no longer cast yes vote for House Bill 6732 granting provisional franchise to ABS CBN which would be valid only until October 2020, I now strongly urge my colleagues in Congress, particularly the Committee on Legislative Franchise, to immediately and urgently hear and resolve the renewal bills pertaining to the grant of a fresh franchise to ABS CBN Corporation," 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.