MANILA - The House of Representatives on Tuesday will tackle for only the second time since 2014 measures that will grant ABS-CBN Corp a fresh 25-year franchise.
The previous ABS-CBN franchise, under Republic Act 7966, took 2 years in the legislative mill. It lapsed on May 4.
First filed on Dec. 17, 1993 as House Bill 11611, the recently-expired ABS-CBN franchise was approved on final reading on Aug. 1, 1994, with 161 voting in the affirmative. It was signed by then President Fidel Ramos on March 30, 1995.
From 2014, bills filed by then Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao and Nueva Ecija Rep. Micaela Violago for the network's franchise renewal languished in the committee on legislative franchises.
Under the current, 18th Congress, 13 bills granting ABS-CBN a fresh license have been filed since July 2019.
On Tuesday, the House committees on the legislative franchises and good government will conduct a joint hearing on the proposed measures. The first time lawmakers deliberated on these was on March 10 of this year, during which they laid down rules for the conduct of lengthier hearings.
“Sa lahat ng ating kababayan, umasa po kayo, magiging patas po ang pagdinig," said Jose Antonio "Jonathan" Sy-Alvarado, chairman of the House committee on Good Government.
(To all our fellow countrymen, we can assure you that the hearing will be fair.)
"Marami po talaga, pati sa lalawigan ng Bulacan, ang nanonood ng ABS-CBN at kumakausap sa akin na sana magkaroon ng prangkisa muli ang ABS-CBN. Pero marami rin po ang may silakbo ng damdamin laban sa ABS-CBN. Kaya sana po, mapakinggan po natin ang dalawang panig upang maging tama po yung paghatol sa pagbibigay muli ng prangkisa sa ABS-CBN."
(There are many, including from Bulacan, who watch ABS-CBN, and are telling me about their desire for ABS-CBN to have a franchise. But there are also many who are against ABS-CBN. That's why, we hope to listen to both sides so we can come up with the right decision.)
Sy-Alvarado is Bulacan 1st District's Representative in the lower House.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the hearing will be a combination of physical and virtual hearing, with a few lawmakers and resource persons inside the House of Representatives session hall.
Among those expected to address the body are Sy-Alvarado, legislative franchises committee chair Franz Alvarez, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, and Majority Leader Martin Romualdez.
The sponsors of the 13 ABS-CBN franchise bills, and the sponsors of House Resolution 853 that seeks an investigation into the alleged violations of ABS-CBN in its franchise, led by Representatives Paolo Duterte, Eric Yap and Abraham Tolentino, are also expected to deliver some remarks.
ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak will make the case for the grant of a new franchise, while oppositors will also be given a chance to be heard.
Representatives from the National Telecommunications Commission, which ordered a cease and desist order against the network last May 5, and the Office of the Solicitor General, which sought to invalidate ABS-CBN's previous franchise before the Supreme Court, are also expected to attend.
Sy-Alvarado said "the filing or pendency of a case before any court...shall not stop or abate any inquiry conducted to carry out a legislative purpose.”
The NTC had skipped a Senate meeting on the network's franchise last week, invoking the sub judice rule that prohibits parties from making remarks that may unduly influence the case. ABS-CBN had asked the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order against the NTC's broadcast shutdown order.
“Ang NTC, ganun din ang Solicitor General, sila ay inaasahan nating magbibigay ng linaw. Ngunit ang kanilang paglilinaw na ibibigay ay para naman in aid of legislation, at hindi pangunahan yung kasong kanilang finile, o finile ni SolGen sa SC na quo warranto para sa ABS-CBN,” he said.
(The NTC and the Solicitor General are expected to shed light on issues, in aid of legislation, and without prejudice to the cases filed at the Supreme Courte.)
Laguna Rep. Sol Aragones, a former ABS-CBN news reporter, expects the subsequent hearings to be scheduled soon.
”Ang maganda dito ay tiniyak naman sa atin at in-assure tayo ng leadership na talagang magpapatuloy ang hearings sa ABS-CBN kahit pa daw sumapit na sa araw ng break ng Kongreso," she said.
(What's good about this is we were assured by the leadership that the hearings will continue even when Congress is already on break.)
Congress is scheduled to go on break from June 6 until July 26.