House panel begins ABS-CBN franchise renewal proceedings

February 24, 2020
Alan Peter  Cayetano & Grace Poe

THE  House Committee on Legislative Franchises  yesterday started the preliminary proceedings on the renewal of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation franchise.

Panel chairman Palawan Representative  Franz Alvarez asked all the stakeholders to submit their respective position papers so they could review  them when the hearing starts between May and August this year.

“The committee is now open to accept all the position papers from all the stakeholders and also ComSec (committee secretary), please communicate with all those who wish to submit position papers na ready na po ang committee na tanggapin po yung mga position paper ng lahat -- anti and for  -- ng renewal ng ABS-CBN para po sa mga darating na panahon, bago tayo magkaroon ng formal hearing, mapag-aralan na po natin lahat ng position,” said Alvarez in yesteday’s proceedings.

“Once ma-receive natin lahat ng position paper, mapag-aralan, maybe May or pinakamatagal siguro August. We are sure marami po talagang magsu-submit ng position paper and it will take time,” Alvarez said.

The ABS-CBN franchise  will end on March 30.  

Congress goes on  Lenten break starting March 15 and and will resume on May 6.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary  Menardo Guevarra said in yesterday’s Senate hearing  that the franchise will expire on May 4, 2020.  

During the Senate hearing, Engineer Annaliza Buenviaje, a representative from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), said there was a 1994 memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Congress, NTC, and Kapisanan ng Brodkaster ng PIlipinas (KBP) allowing the franchisee to continue to operate, while its application for legislative franchise remains pending in Congress. 

“I haven’t read the full text, but there in an understanding between KBP, Congress, and NTC, that while franchise is pending, the existing operators can still operate their broadcast activities,” Buenviaje stressed. 

Alvarez  assured a  fair hearing, adding the  television network can still operate even if its legislative franchise ends on March 30. 

“May precedent tayo from the last Congress ano, like in the franchise ng CBCP (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines), hindi natin sila nahear kaagad, naglapse din ‘yung kanilang franchise pero hindi naman sila pina-stop ng kanilang operator until merong final action ‘yung committee,”  Alvarez explained. 

“We only have eight session days. Of course kaming mga author, gusto sana namin ma-calendar na siya at this point na hindi pa tayo nagbe-break,” Alvarez added. 

House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, one of the principal authors of the franchise renewal, said pending bills should be immediately discussed by the commitee even before Congress  adjourns on March 13.

“I don’t think the issues are very complicated, the renewal of the franchise of the ABS-CBN has been discussed beginning with the 16th Congress  until 17th Congress. We are calling on the House leadership to calendar the formal hearing at the soonest possible time,” Zarate said.

Isabela Rep. Tonypet Albano,  vice chairman of the Committee on Legislative Franchises, pointed out that the Alvarez order will give both sides the opportunity to argue their positions and for the panel to begin its formal deliberations.

“This again proves on what the Speaker (Alan Peter) Cayetano, chairman Alvarez, and I have been saying, that the work of Congress in hearing the ABS-CBN franchise has an informal and formal work... meaning, we in the committee have been working even before hearing the formal processes,” Albano said.

“And since we are formally asking everyone to submit, and once we have all these positions papers that I expect to be voluminous submitted, we will have to read all these papers, even during our break, to facilitate and hasten our work due to its gravity and importance,” Albano added.

SENATORS AS ‘ATTENTION-GRABBERS’

Meanwhile, House Speaker Allan Peter Cayetano said the legislative agenda of the House of Representatives will be affected if the Senate “hears” the ABS-CBN franchise renewal before Congress adjourns next month.

Cayetano urged the network to do some “soul-searching” to reflect on “how we have all reached this point.”

Cayetano also criticized the senators for being “attention-grabbers” when they opened a public hearing on the ABS-CBN franchise without waiting for the lower house’s action.

“Ang problema maraming gustong umepal. Maraming gustong maging part ng solution, maraming nagpo-propose, panay what if?”said Cayetano during the opening of the Kobe Bryant exhibit at the House, adding he was dismayed over the hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Public Services chaired by Senator Grace Poe.

Cayetano said unlike Senate, the House of Representatives wanted first to know the opinion of other stakeholders and hear all sides before talking about the issue,

“Hindi kami nagsasalita dito sa Kongreso nang hindi namin alam ang sinasabi namin,” Cayetano pointed out.

“Parang nag-a-attendance lahat ng gustong sumipsip sa ABS-CBN. The reality, kung gustong isara, isang hearing lang ‘di isara o huwag i-hear at sabihin sa NTC na isara ito,” Cayetano said.

“Bakit naghe-hearing ang Senate? Anong purpose? Parang nag-a-attendance sila sa ABS eh. Hello! I’m here, I’m here for you. Kasi sabi nila, it’s not for the franchise, hindi naman sila puwede mag-hearing sa franchise at nandito pa sa Kamara,” Cayetano added.

He reiterated his stand that while the ABS-CBN franchise renewal is important, it is not urgent to hear the franchise bills.

Like the budget and tax measures, franchise bills should emanate from the House of Representatives before Senate can take actions.

However,  the chairman of the House Committee on Legislative franchises is not pressured by the Senate hearing.

“Nirerespeto po natin ‘yung ating mga kasamahan sa Senado na hiwalay naman po sila. At tayo po dito may sarili din po,” Alvarez said.

Both Cayetano and Alvarez stressed that the best time to discuss the franchise bills is in August this year.

With Ryan Ponce Pacpaco