ABS-CBN franchise may be rejected if rushed

February 16, 2020

CNN Philippines — A lawmaker who sits as a vice-chairperson of the House panel that handles legislative franchises warned Sunday they may end up rejecting ABS-CBN’s bid for franchise renewal if they are rushed in the process.

Isabela 1st District Rep. Antonio “Tonypet” Albano said in a lengthy statement that the timing of the first committee hearing on ABS-CBN’s bid for a fresh 25-year legislative franchise has to be “perfect, right and conducive lest we sacrifice the station due to all these animosities and negative emotions that are hounding it today.”

“Worse, we suddenly might end up rejecting the network’s franchise to the detriment of the 11,000 employees and families that rely on the network for their very livelihood if we rush this,” Albano continued.

He added that scheduling a hearing for ABS-CBN’s franchise does not automatically mean that it will get renewed and may even result in the opposite.

“And if it is rejected, we again in Congress will be maliciously get blamed for saying that the freedom of the press is curtailed once more. So we proceed cautiously,” he said.

Albano assured that there will be a proper time for the House panel on legislative franchises to hear ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal bid and reiterated the position of the House leadership that the TV network will be given the chance to answer all criticisms hurled at it.

The lawmaker also denied that they are “rubber stamps” of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been vocal about his distaste for ABS-CBN and has vowed to put it out of business.

Albano said that if they truly just followed whatever Duterte wants, they could have simply voted against the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise due to a “large number of complaints from politicians, businessmen, actors, producers and many more.”

He also reiterated the claim of the House leadership that it is too busy to tackle the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN, stressing that there are more pressing issues that need to be addressed, like the novel coronavirus and African swine fever outbreaks, the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, and the eruption of Taal Volcano.

However, he conceded that the House can multitask, but members of the majority are also working on their pet bills.

Albano said ABS-CBN can continue operating anyway until Congress adjourns on June 30, 2022, repeating a claim made by Congress leaders that the TV network can continue working even after its franchise expires on March 30 as long as there are pending bills pushing for the renewal of its franchise.

AKO Bicol party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin suggested that Congress pass a joint concurrent resolution telling the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) that ABS-CBN can continue operating even after its franchise expires as long as bills seeking its renewal are pending.

“The joint concurrent resolution would also be the assurance of Congress to the Filipino people that there will be no vacuum in freedom of expression, creativity, and press freedom because of the expiration of the ABS-CBN franchises,” Garbin said.

Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman, among the lawmakers pushing for the renewal of the TV network’s franchise, had called assurances like this an “illusory alternative remedy.”

The “legal, proper, and traditional course of action” is to decide on whether or not to grant ABS-CBN another 25 years to operate, Lagman stressed.

Aside from its bid for franchise renewal at the House, ABS-CBN is also facing another battle at the Supreme Court, where Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a petition seeking to void the network’s existing franchise.
Calida cited “highly abusive practices,” including allowing foreign investors to “take part in the ownership of a Philippine mass media entity” as well as launching media services without prior approval from the NTC.
The quo warranto petition— lodged against ABS-CBN Corporation and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence Inc.—came weeks before the expiry of the network’s existing franchise.

Several government officials— including the media company itself— denounced the move, saying it has no factual basis. Human Rights Watch Philippines also condemned the legal maneuver, saying it had “all the indications of political harassment.”

Both the House leadership and Calida stressed that their decisions on the network’s franchise are not motivated by politics.