The joint panel in the House of Representatives deliberating on the ABS-CBN franchise bill is expected to decide today (Thursday) on giving or denying a fresh 25-year franchise for the media giant.
Meanwhile, Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez said there was no decision yet by congressmen on the application of ABS-CBN Corp. for a new broadcast franchise, contrary to a local broadsheet’s report.
A list published by the English language broadsheet on Wednesday showed the votes of the 46 regular members of the Committee on Legislative Franchises, which Alvarez chairs, as well as the votes of the 48 House leaders who have voted in all committees of the House.
The House website says Alvarez’s committee is set to reconvene with the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability on Thursday to listen to the summations of Reps. Rufus Rodriguez and Rodante Marcoleta, representing the pros and antis in the franchise renewal debate.
The bill’s proponents, led by Rodriguez who authored House Bill 6694, claimed victory for ABS-CBN.
Rep. Lito Atienza of Buhay party-list also welcomed the call of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano—who is considered anti-ABS-CBN—for a conscience vote.
“Speaker Cayetano said he will allow a conscience vote on the ABS-CBN franchise. I hope he will deliver on that. If it’s a conscience vote, ABS-CBN wins,” said Atienza.
This developed as a report by Fitch Solutions on Wednesday said the “forceful termination” of ABS-CBN Corp. and its subsidiary Sky Cable will weigh on the country’s ability to lure foreign investors, noting the decision was “highly politicized.”
The government’s actions were “clearly linked to President Rodrigo Duterte’s opposition toward ABS-CBN,” the Fitch Solutions Country Risk and Industry Research report said.
“The regulator’s apparent ability to be influenced by the government continues to be a key impediment to foreign investor sentiment, and has also made the telecoms landscape difficult for both new entrants and existing players,” it said.
Sky Cable earlier said the shutdown of its Sky Direct services will affect close to 1.5 million direct-to-home (DTH) subscribers.
In the Senate, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the government should not meddle in private business and editorial content.
His statement came two days after several House members complained about ABS-CBN’s reportage during the chamber’s 12th hearing on the broadcast giant’s franchise renewal bid.
“Government should not meddle with business,” Sotto said in an online press conference when asked for comment.
“If there are mistakes or violations, criticize them, but that is different from meddling,” he said, adding “The government should not meddle especially with editorial content. That is their opinion. They could be wrong.”
While Cayetano, as running mate of then-presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte, had to secure a court order to stop ABS-CBN from airing a “demolition” advertisement against his principal, he chose to keep his silence and join the parade of witnesses who called for the rejection of the bill giving the network another 25-year franchise.
Bulacan Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado, chairman of the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, manifested during a committee hearing Monday that Cayetano would be submitting a statement, which would form part of the testimonies heard before the panel.
Sy-Alvarado said Cayetano statement was based on his personal knowledge and belief, on matters relating to ABS-CBN’s alleged bias, partiality, and favoritism prior to and during the campaign period of the 2016 national elections.
It is common knowledge that the network supported presidential candidate Manuel Roxas III during the 2016 elections.
Reps. Edcel Lagman of Albay and Lawrence Fortun of Agusan del Norte echoed Atienza’s view.
Lagman said he believed members of the joint House committees on legislative franchises, and good government and public accountability– with 46 regular and 44 ex officio — will vote overwhelmingly in favor of granting the ABS-CBN a franchise to operate as it is able to answer well queries from lawmakers and to justify why it deserves to get a new franchise to operate.
“My personal assessment is 8-0 for ABS-CBN on Filipino citizenship, PRD (Philippine Receipts Depository), operation for more than 50 years, reacquisition, digital migration, labor, tax bias reporting/political meddling issues,” said Lagman.
Fortun, for his part, said: “If committee members vote according to conscience, ABS-CBN franchise should be renewed.”
“I hope my colleagues don’t take this personally, but nothing in Monday’s hearing showed that ABS-CBN is involved in alleged ‘political kingmaking.’ No evidence that ABS-CBN engaged in biased reporting, election meddling,” he added.
Fortun, a lawyer, added that placing conditions on a franchise renewal sent a chilling effect to mass media industry.
“This is the first time members of the franchise committee have looked into content. This is not the way it should be. ABSCBN franchise bill should be the same as the franchise bill of other networks. Then, maybe, we can come up with a separate law that will institute reforms in the media industry,” he added.
“If it’s not, the opposite happens. If there’s bias, I accuse my colleagues of bias. They’re coming into the hearings with a set mind. If there’s bullying, I accuse my colleagues of bullying,” added Atienza.
If a majority votes for the franchise, the committee will consolidate all the franchise applications into a single bill with the committee’s own inputs and recommendations depending on their findings from the hearings. This means lawmakers can write whatever they want into the bill.
If there is no difference between the Senate and House versions, the bill will be enrolled for the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte.
But if there are substantial differences, the two chambers will constitute a bicameral conference committee that will iron out the differences. Once there is a consensus, the new version must be ratified by both chambers before it is enrolled for Duterte’s signature.
The President can sign the bill, veto it or allow it to lapse into law.