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Nothing special about ABS-CBN pact renewal, says Cayetano

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Friday said there’s nothing so special about ABS-CBN franchise renewal, now the subject of many speculations from social media platforms and political analysts.

At the same time, Isabela Rep. Antonio Albano, vice chairman of the committee that hears measures regarding issuance and renewal of the franchise, welcomed the proposed Senate inquiry into the ABS-CBN’s compliance with its existing franchise.

Albano said the House panel might consider the Senate inquiry’s output once the House began its deliberations on the pending bills on ABS-CBN franchise renewal.

In the Senate, Senator Christopher Go has guaranteed broadcasting network ABS-CBN will be afforded fair treatment if the bills that seek to renew its franchise are approved in the House of Representatives and forwarded to the Senate.

He stressed that the interest and welfare of every Filipino would be their primordial concern. 

“Rest assured that they will consider first the interest and welfare of every Filipino,” Go said.

Albano, vice chairperson of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, was referring to Senator Grace Poe’s Senate Resolution 322 seeking probe on ABS-CBN’s compliance with its existing franchise.

“Senator Grace Poe has the right to investigate in aid of legislation the supposed abuses of ABS-CBN,” Albano said in an interview.

Cayetano said the House of Representatives was still too busy with other pressing concerns, such as the administrative measures that will benefit the nation.

“Why am I saying this is not urgent? Don’t get me wrong, this is very important. But they can still operate until March 2022,” Cayetano told reporters Friday.

He added: “Do not worry because your favorite shows won’t go off the air yet. But for now, Congress has a lot of urgent matters on its plate,” he added.

A case in point cited by Cayetano was a measure that creates a Department for Overseas Filipino workers—which is on President Rodrigo Duterte’s legislative wish list—is among the priorities of the chamber.

He said he would ask the House committee on legislative franchise to deliberate on the matter at a proper time.

Because it would be imprudent for the chamber to act on the measure at the height of hysteria.

“What we need now are cooler heads. If we hear these proposals now, it will suck all the energy of the 18th Congress. We will overlook what is important,” Cayetano said. 

“There has to be some way that we can discuss this in a sober manner. Magpaliwanagan tayo.”

Go said he would decide at the proper time. 

The bills that seek to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise remain pending at the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, with only a few weeks left before the expiration of the network’s existing franchise.

Because the bills have been filed, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Albano stated in interviews that the existing franchise was deemed extended until the end of the 18th Congress in March 2022 unless Congress makes an earlier denial of the renewal.

Meanwhile, Senator Nancy Binay noted if “we lose ABS-CBN, it would be a big blow on access to information.”

Binay also cited the danger the non-renewal posed to thousands of workers. 

“Of course, we also think about those who will lose their jobs,” added Binay, who admitted that while her family had been the subject of the media company’s criticism in the past, she would still vote in favor of the access to information.

Poe on Thursday filed a resolution asking the Senate to look into ABS-CBN’s operations ‘‘to determine compliance’’ with its existing franchise.

“Due to the gravity of the allegations and its possible effects, the committee has deemed it appropriate to lay the groundwork for a possible inquiry in the spirit of public interest,” Poe said.

Earlier, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a petition for quo warranto before the Supreme Court to revoke the franchise of ABS-CBN allegedly due to, among others, allowing foreign ownership.

Last Feb. 12, Poe filed a Senate resolution directing the Committee on Public Services to investigate the compliance of the network to its current franchise.

Go expressed support for the investigation. He said it’s the right of every senator to call a hearing and hear the opinion of each Filipino.

“If there will be a probe, let us call all those concerned to be fair and ferret out the truth. 

Cayetano said he instructed the House committee on legislative franchise to hold off any discussions on the matter now as both the supporters and critics of the network would likely be fueled by passion or anger. 

As for thousands of employees of the broadcast network who might lose their job, Cayetano said they were just among the so many employees in other companies that Congress and the government were trying to address.

The franchise of the broadcast network will expire in March. 

Congress will adjourn session on March 13.

He said the action to be taken by the Senate “does not in any way conflict with our committee power to hear the same violations in our franchise committee.”

“The committee leaders and members have to be impartial and fair to ABS-CBN, and [so] we will treat the merits of Senator Poe’s investigation as additional information when she finishes her probe in aid of legislation during our public committee hearings where [bills seeking renewal of] ABS-CBN franchise is taken up,” Albano pointed out.

Ako-Bicol Party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin echoed Albano’s view.

“It is a welcome development since ABS-CBN will be given a chance to show that they possess [enough] qualification for their franchise renewal application and compliance of the provision of their existing franchise,” Garbin, a member of the House panel, said.

“In the same way, the government, Solicitor General and other regulatory agency can also ventilate in the Senate hearing the alleged violations of ABS-CBN franchise, including the issues raised in the quo warranto proceedings since legislative investigations are not precluded by sub judice rule,” he added.

Eleven bills seeking ABS-CBN franchise renewal have been filed before the House Legislative Franchises panel, but have yet to be tackled.

Some lawmakers earlier said that during the last Congress, the bill providing for the extension of the broadcast network’s franchise was stalled due to the alleged non-cooperation of the network’s owners to the legislators who sponsored the bill.

One of the bill’s proponents said that despite repeated requests, the owners failed to submit documents that will prove that the network  is 60 percent owned by Filipinos.

Under the Constitution, media entities are required to have at least 60 percent Filipino ownership.

In 2019, the ABS-CBN did not hold a stockholders’ meeting at that time the renewal of its franchise was already pending at the House of Representatives.

This year, reports said that the networks’ owners banned foreign investors from attending this year’s stockholders’ meeting set next month­—about a month before the network’s franchise.

Topics: Alan Peter Cayetano , ABS-CBN , Antonio Albano , House of Representatives
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