House set to tackle ABS-CBN franchise issue

Alan Peter Cayetano

STARTING next week, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises will hear the bills granting ABS-CBN Corp. a 25-year franchise.

This was announced by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, a day after the House of Representatives recalled the approval of a bill that grants the television network provisional authority to operate until October this year.

“The deliberations by the Committee on Legislative Franchises will continue during our recess. They will not stop until they are finished so that no one can say we’re stopping the process or dragging our feet,” Cayetano said in an interview on ABS-CBN’s teleradyo channel.

The Speaker lamented that the issue has become “so divisive” and the national debate “so polluted” that the House has to attend to it even if it wanted to focus on response measures to coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“That is why we are giving the legislative franchises committee full autonomy, while I and other House leaders and members are focusing on bills to fight the COVID-19 and post-lockdown and post-pandemic measures like economic stimulus proposals. We will have to multitask,” he added.

The committee, chaired by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, would most likely hold two to three hearings a week, according to Cayetano.

He said some witnesses and resource persons would be required to physically appear before the committee, provided social distancing and other health protocols are observed.

Other hearings would have to be conducted via videoconference, he added.

The Speaker pointed out that the committee would look into “no more than 10 issues” in relation to ABS-CBN’s proposed new franchise, including the network’s alleged violations of tax and labor laws, breaches of the terms and conditions of its previous broadcast privilege, and Filipino ownership and foreign citizenship issues.

“I foresee that the hearings would not go beyond July, and by August, after President Duterte’s SONA (State of the Nation Address), we should be ready to decide,” he said.

The President will deliver his SONA before a joint session of the House and the Senate on July 27.