‘ABS’ franchise on back burner

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said Thursday calls to revive the franchise of media giant ABS-CBN would have to wait until the next Congress.

Velasco said the House of Representatives was set on finishing the priority measures of the administration on the remaining days of the Duterte administration, and that the network’s franchise renewal measure was not on the Palace’s priority agenda.

“Calls to revive the franchise of ABS-CBN will have to wait until the next Congress,” he said in a statement.

Velasco’s remark came as President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night said he would not allow the National Telecommunications Commission to give ABS-CBN a license to operate even if the media giant is given a new broadcast franchise by Congress.

Duterte said ABS-CBN should first settle its unpaid obligations, even as the Lopez family behind the television network already said it has no outstanding loans with the government-owned Development Bank of the Philippines as the President hinted before.

But as far as the legislative calendar is concerned, Velasco said: “With a little over a year until the 2022 elections, the House of Representatives is bent on finishing the remaining priority measures of this Administration to ensure that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte fulfills his campaign promise to the Filipino people.”

Among the priority legislation cited by the Speaker is the Bayanihan 3 bill that proposes a P420-billion fund to stimulate the country’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Velasco principally authored the bill.

The Bayanihan 3 bill allocates P108 billion for additional social amelioration to impacted households; P100 billion for capacity-building for impacted sectors; P52 billion for wage subsidies; P70 billion for capacity-building for agricultural producers; P30 billion for internet allowances to teachers and students; P30 billion for assistance to displaced workers; P25 billion for COVID-19 treatment and vaccines; and P5 billion for the rehabilitation of areas affected by recent floods and typhoons.

“On top of these priority legislation, we would like to see the passage of Bayanihan 3, as well as other economic bills geared toward rebuilding the Philippine economy shattered by the devastating impact of the global pandemic and rebuilding the lives of every Filipino disrupted by the health crisis,” Velasco said.

In July 2020, the committee on legislative franchises, together with the public accountability committee under the leadership of Alan Peter Cayetano rejected the franchise application of ABS-CBN Corp. by adopting a resolution denying the franchise application of ABS-CBN to construct, install, establish, operate and maintain radio and broadcasting stations in the Philippines.

The broadcast giant was shuttered after lawmakers voted 70-11 to reject bills that would have given the radio and TV network a new 25-year franchise. There was one abstention and two recusals.

The lawmakers—many of them allies of President Rodrigo Duterte—emphasized that their decision had nothing to do with press freedom, even though Duterte had threatened as early as 2018 to block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s license to operate.

ABS-CBN was ordered to stop operating on May 5 after its legislative franchise expired, even though there were several bills seeking its renewal pending in the House.

Meanwhile, Rep. Lito Atienza of Buhay party-list cautioned the members of the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability before they delve into issues surrounding the alleged loan condonation or write-off by the DBP in favor of companies controlled by or affiliated with the Lopez family – all of which remain unvalidated until now.

Atienza said: “I strongly caution the committee against pursuing this issue, especially if it does not have any evidence to prove the said loan condonation. We asked Chairman Michael Aglipay if they have any evidence that the Philippine government lost money in this transaction, estimated at P1.6billion? Did the DBP, being the depository of public funds, lose money?

“And he admitted that they had none, which is why the committee is filing a motion to compel the concerned agency to submit any documents through a subpoena duces tecum. Why call for a hearing when you have yet to get hold of any evidence to prove such claims?

“This is clearly a fishing expedition. And I, for one, will not be a part of it.”

During a special meeting of the committee, Atienza’s was the only dissenting vote on the motion to issue a subpoena for any such documents. All of the other members present, all 17 of them, voted yes. The alleged loan was purchased by investment company Lehman Brothers, which was covered by the Special Purpose Vehicle allowing banks to sell papers of indebtedness for non-performing assets of the government.

Atienza added: “We should protect the integrity of this House and not allow ourselves to be used for allegations like this that have no basis whatsoever, especially since this particular transaction took place almost 20 years ago.

“There is always a presumption of regularity, and it is up to the accuser to prove otherwise. And if there is proof, then let the proper agency such as the Ombudsman investigate and pursue the case. This is not Congress’ job.”

Topics: ABS-CBN , Lord Allan Velasco , Rodrigo Duterte , Congress , Development Bank of the Philippines
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