The Philippines: Finally, House to tackle ABS-CBN franchise bills

  • Bowing to public pressure, the House leadership announced that it would take up the 11 bills renewing ABS-CBN’s franchise on 10 Mar 20, a day before Congress adjourns for Lent, in a hearing meant to guarantee that the giant media network would not go off the air after the expiration of its license.
  • Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the House committee on legislative franchises would formally give “instructions” to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority to continue operating after its license expires on 4 May 20.
  • At a hastily called news conference in his office, Cayetano said the committee, chaired by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, would “make it clear” to the NTC that it had officially taken up the renewal of ABS-CBN’s license.
  • “So it should not switch the lights off [on ABS-CBN], so to speak, and they (NTC officials) should grant the provisional authority,” the Taguig lawmaker said.
  • Congress has no control over the commission, an executive office under the Department of Information and Communications Technology. Alvarez, however, said his panel expected the NTC to grant the provisional authority to ABS-CBN, considering a number of precedents.
  • The provisional authority should be valid “while the bills are still pending,” Alvarez said. “So the life span is until the end of 18th Congress. So that’s about two years, but it may be acted upon in less than two years.”
  • “The House believes there’s no reason the NTC would not grant the [provisional authority] because they had done so before. There’s no reason they would grant it to others but not to [ABS-CBN],” he said.
  • Critics, including Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza, had earlier questioned the validity of a provisional authority, arguing that despite the precedence, there was no legal basis for it and that no less than the grant of a congressional franchise was necessary to keep ABS-CBN on the air.
  • Cayetano made the announcement of the committee hearing following an outpouring of support for the broadcaster and public outcry against the nonrenewal of the network’s franchise as an attack on press freedom, even as rumors of an ouster plot against the Speaker by a “silent majority” circulated in the 302-member chamber.
  • None of ABS-CBN’s officers, including its president and CEO Carlo Katigbak, who appeared at a Senate hearing to defend the renewal of its franchise, have been invited to the hearing, which would focus on the NTC’s role.
  • Only Telecommunications Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba was invited to face the House panel, Alvarez said.
  • Congress is expected to adjourn on 11 Mar 20 and resume sessions on 4 May 20, which coincides with the end of ABS-CBN’s 25-year franchise.
  • Eighteen House members have filed bills extending ABS-CBN’s franchise.

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