"The second wave of the drama unfolds."
Okay, let us grant good faith and all that jazz to Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and his colleagues who called for that extraordinary (unprecedented is how one observer described it) Committee of the Whole meeting last week to pass on first and second reading House Bill 6732, otherwise known as the proposed franchise for ABS CBN Corporation.
Yes, Ssir, it is ABS CBN Corporation, not ABS CBN Broadcasting Corporation, which was the title of the franchise issued in 1995 which the company allowed to expire last May 4. That, by itself, is already a kind of whisper for the media giant as it denotes an expanded franchise not the one which it and its advocates, far and wide, were so passionate about in the run up to its expiration.
Let us take Cayetano's word for it in his impassioned sponsorship speech calling on all and sundry to listen up as he insisted that this move, this unprecedented move in rushing the passage of a private bill in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as an act of courage. Of patriotism even, to get this one bill he and his colleagues must have considered of such transcendental importance passed, that they had to suspend the rules and come out with such a legislative gem. After all, as he and his most ardent supporters have been saying all along it is only the House of Representatives and not any other branch of government that has the power to grant, modify or cancel any and all franchises for public use or convenience.
Let us also let things pass (solid DDS groups please be advised accordingly) when he emphatically pointed out that he did what he did so that President Duterte and his administration will not be judged negatively and harshly by history as an "autocrat, the Evil One" as his critics have been saying all along. He did so only, or so Cayetano said, as he cannot in conscience bear to see and hear all the denunciations being hurled at this President he considers a true friend and ally. It is his way, he said, and I am paraphrasing here to end an all consuming debate which distracts us from the more critical issue of dealing with the pandemic. After all, this is just a provisional franchise of five months to take it off the table, I suppose, and as Cayetano himself noted to give time for Congress to investigate and consider all the issues and concerns raised about ABS CBN.
What a way. This must be one of those rare moments in the history of Congress, maybe even of the Republic, that the passage of a private bill is given such an extraordinary exhortation from no less than the leader of the House. And so it will soon come to pass that this bill will be relayed to the Upper House
for consideration and concurrence. I will not be surprised if, as one of the House leaders noted, it will be adopted by the Senate even as that body's Minority Leader has filed a bill extending and I emphasize extending here the expired ABS CBN franchise up to June 30, 2022. That is, if the Senate leadership will,
as a matter of courtesy and comity, assent to the House's contention that it is that body which initiates, grants, modifies and cancels any and all franchises of public convenience. We will soon find out.
What is instructive at this point is to find out whether this new (provisional?) franchise is worth the time, legislative acrobatics and similar extraordinary moves which attended its swift passage. Our colleague in our daily morning radio show over DWIZ, Atty. Trixie Cruz-Angeles, checked out the provisions of the original bill given to media, HB 6732, and came out with some revelations worthy of whisperers for the media behemoth. As noted earlier the title itself, if it is retained, is a giveaway. It effectively sweeps whatever ills, problems or issues raised against the original franchisee, ABS CBN Broadcasting Corporation, under the rug. Their lawyers will say that is not so as the company has already promised under oath and by their earlier move to secure a TRO on the CDO issued by the NTC that they are ready, willing and able to face all of the complaints, grievances and innuendos thrown their way. Well, as we always say, we will see.
For all intents and purposes, this is a new franchise. It is not the one which consumed the nation and parts of the world in debate. It is not the one which the Lopez group and its network of supporters harangued Malacanang, NTC, SolGen Calida and all others who insisted that they should follow the law for. It is not the one which precipitated all of those crying and breast-beating from the bleeding hearts of the world. Where are these guys now, anyway? I will not be surprised if the lawyers will now withdraw their plea before the Supreme Court for being 'moot and academic." Well, we will see.
Our colleague also noticed a number of riders, subtle insertions they call it in legislative maneuverings, which may trump the promised investigations on the sins of ABS CBN and may even put in jeopardy the quo warranto petition filed by SolGen Calida early on. But no matter. What is important is for the public to know that in the course of just a few hours, Speaker Cayetano and his bunch of whisperers were able to push forward this private bill with quite a number of advantages without the benefit of any hearing and, get this, without even the grantee asking for it.
For example. the 1995 ABS CBN franchise did not include the word INSTALL as part of the purposes for which the franchise is being issued. It is inserted in HB 6732. It did not also carry the term "Digital TV or other Program Distribution Services." In HB 7632 it is included. Originally, it did not identify "Terrestrial" as one of the means to operate on a Free TV/Radio frequency. Now, under HB6732 it is explicit. Despite the pronouncements that the franchise is provisional and only up to five months, HB 6732 explicitly states that it is "renewed for another 25 years."
Also, under this franchise ABS CBN is allowed to sell, lease, grant the usufruct or merge with any other corporation or entity or for the controlling interest of the grantee to transfer whether as a whole or in parts and whether simultaneously or contemporaneously to any other person or entity without the approval of Congress. This is a huge incentive not in the original franchise and not even asked for by ABS CBN. To think that this is supposed to be a mere provisional franchise. Finally, there is no equality clause in the proposed provisional franchise which is a regular feature in all other media and/or communications franchises as the grantees make use of a State owned resource - the frequencies.
And these are just for starters. There is no knowing if this bill will be voted into its final form with all these attributes intact. Suffice it to say that the media behemoth is, slowly but surely, managing to maneuver its way out of trouble without even as yet answering any single question on its reported sins with the able assistance of its array of advocates and, yes, whisperers specially in government. The second wave of this drama unfolds.
||RA 7966 ABS CBN's 1995 Franchise
||House Bill 6732
||RA 10925 GMA's franchise
|1. Expanded coverage:
HB 6732 gives ABS CBN same privileges as GMA 7 without benefit of hearing. Their original 1995 franchise did not contain the word “install”, did not include digital tv or “other program and distribution services”
GMA has the word “terrestrial” pertaining to technologies and is allowed to install radio communications facilities for their private use. They are also allowed “program and distribution services”
||Section 1. Nature and Scope of Franchise.— Subject to the provisions of the Constitution and applicable laws, rules and regulations, the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation, hereunder referred to as the grantee, its successors or assigns, is hereby granted a franchise to construct, operate and maintain, for commercial purposes and in the public interest, television and radio broadcasting stations in and throughout the Philippines, through microwave, satellite or whatever means including the use of any new technologies in television and radio systems, with the corresponding technological auxiliaries or facilities, special broadcast and other broadcast distribution services and relay stations.
||Sec. 1. Nature and Scope of Franchise.-- Subject to the provisions of the 1987 constitution and applicable laws, rules and regulations, the ABS-CBN Corporation, formerly known as ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation, hereunder referred to as the grantee, its successors or assignees, is hereby granted a franchise to construct, install, operate and maintain for commercial purposes and in the public interest, television and radio broadcasting, including digital television system, through microwave, satellite or whatever means, or the use of any new technologies in television and radio systems, with the corresponding technological auxiliaries and facilities, special broadcast and other program and distribution services and relay stations.
||"Sec. 2. Nature and Scope of Franchise. - Subject to the provisions of the 1987 Constitution and applicable laws, rules and regulations, the franchise granted to Republic Broadcasting System, Inc., presently known as GMA Network, Inc., hereunder referred to as the grantee, its successors or assignees, under Republic Act No. 7252 to construct, install, establish, operate and maintain, for commercial purposes and in the public interest radio and television broadcasting stations in the Philippines, including digital television system, through microwave, satellite, terrestrial or whatever means, or the use of any new technologies in television and radio systems, with the corresponding auxiliary, special broadcast and other program and distribution services and relay stations, and to install radio communication facilities for the grantee’s private use in its broadcast services is hereby renewed for another twenty-five (25) years from the effectivity of this Act.
|2.Transfers of franchise
ABS CBN allowed mergers, transfers of controlling interests to other persons, firms or companies. GMA is specifically forbidden to do so without Congress' approval
||Section 11. Sale, Lease, Transfer, Usufruct, etc.— The grantee shall not lease, transfer, grant the usufruct of, sell nor assign this franchise or the rights and privileges acquired thereunder to any person, firm, company, corporation or other commercial or legal entity, without the approval of the Congress of the Philippines. Any person or entity to which this franchise is sold, transferred or assigned shall be subject to all the same conditions, terms, and limitations of this Act.
||Sec. 11. Sale, Lease, Transfer, Grant of Usufruct, or Assignment of Franchise. – The grantee shall not sell, lease, transfer, grant the usufruct of nor assign this franchise or the rights and privileges acquired thereunder to any person, firm, company, corporation or other commercial or legal entity, without the prior approval of the Congress of the Philippines. Provided, Any person or entity to which this franchise is sold, transferred or assigned, shall be subject to the same condition, terms, restrictions and limitations of this Act.
||"Sec. 12. Sale, Lease, Transfer, Usufruct or Assignment of Franchise. - The grantee shall not sell, lease, transfer, grant the usufruct of nor assign this franchise or the rights and privileges acquired thereunder to any person, firm, company, corporation or other commercial or legal entity, nor merge with any other corporation or entity, nor shall the controlling interest of the grantee be transferred, whether as a whole or in parts, and whether simultaneously or contemporaneously, to any such private person, firm, company, corporation or entity without the prior approval of the Congress of the Philippines: Provided, That any person or entity to which this franchise is sold, transferred or assigned shall be subject to all the same conditions, terms, restrictions, and limitations of this act.
|3. Equality Clause
ABS CBN has no equality clause allowing them to obtain same benefits as other stations automatically once granted.
||"Sec. 15. Equality Clause. - Any advantage, favor, privilege, exemption, or immunity granted under existing franchise, or which may hereafter be granted for radio and/or television broadcasting, upon prior review and approval of Congress, shall become part of this franchise and shall be accorded immediately and unconditionally to the herein grantee: Provided, That the foregoing shall not apply to nor affect provisions of broadcasting franchises concerning territory covered by the franchise, the lifespan of the franchise or the type of service authorized by the franchise.
Note: House Bill 6732 here reflects the copy first distributed to media and filed in the congressional archives. Sometime yesterday the copy was replaced with one giving a franchise to ABS CBN Broadcasting as opposed to the original filed copy with stated that the franchise was being given to ABS CBN Corporation.
The original copy (the same as the one distributed to media) has been reuploaded today, 16 May 2020.