Hearings on proposals to renew the legislative franchise of ABS-CBN will begin in the House of Representatives next week, with Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano estimating that its approval would be ready by August.
“I foresee that the hearings would not go beyond July, and by August, after President (Rodrigo) Duterte’s SONA (State of the Nation Address), we should be ready to decide,” he said Wednesday.
The President will deliver his SONA before a joint session of the House and the Senate on July 27.
“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 on ABS-CBN’s teleradyo channel.
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.
He said the committee on legislative franchises would have “full autonomy” while he and other House leaders focus on bills to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and post-lockdown measures such as economic stimulus proposals.
“We will have to multitask,” Cayetano said.
The Speaker said the committee would most likely hold two to three hearings a week.
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 committee on legislative franchises, chaired by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, is scheduled to meet later Thursday to agree on the details of its hearing schedule and other matters.
Cayetano reiterated that the House is committed to conducting impartial and comprehensive hearings on the proposed franchise.
Shortly before his interview, he addressed his colleagues and spelled out ground rules for the consideration of the ABS-CBN franchise and the eventual vote.
“First, we must not forget our bigger concern, which is to defeat COVID-19 and provide hope to our countrymen. We must continue to focus on measures that will ensure saving of lives and livelihood of our countrymen,” he said.
“Second, as I’ve said time and again, the hearings must be fair, impartial, comprehensive, and thorough. All voices must be heard and all issues for and against will be discussed…this will require a lot of time--time we do not have. And so, there will be sacrifices on our part if we hope to finish this without delay,” he said.
“Three, that we all vote according to our conscience and not our politics. For those who are calling for an outright approval or denial, I ask that you suspend your extreme views until all the facts have been presented, and all the testimonies have been heard,” he said.
A minority bloc in the House urged their colleagues to make a common stand on the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC)'s cease and desist order issued to shut down the operations of radio-TV network ABS-CBN.
Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun made the call after the Supreme Court asked the House of Representatives, Senate, along with the NTC, to comment on the petition filed by the ABS-CBN Corp. versus NTC.
"Now that the Supreme Court has opted to ask Congress to respond to the ABS-CBN petition for certiorari and prohibition against the NTC cease and desist order, I appeal to my colleagues in the minority bloc that we express to the Supreme Court our collective wisdom on the issues presented in the pending petitions concerning the ABS-CBN legislative franchise," said Fortun.
"By collective wisdom, I mean the consensus of the House minority and the commonalities in the positions of the House majority and the minority," Fortun said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said on Wednesday the fate of ABS-CBN and its 11,000 employees who face possible retrenchment in August lies with the Supreme Court with Congress adjourning sine die in six days,
The broadcast network had asked the Supreme Court for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the cease-and-desist order issued by the NTC.
The Court has given the NTC 10 days to reply and another five days for ABS-CBN to respond accordingly.
Drilon said ABS-CBN should just hope for a speedy intervention from the Supreme Court.
He also said the ball was in the court of the House of Representatives.
“If they do not send us anything, then we cannot debate, consider and pass it," Drilon said.
"We cannot pass the franchise of ABS-CBN unless the House passes its version first. That is in the Constitution. This is a private bill and, therefore, it must originate from the House of Representatives," he said.