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Conscience vote on ABS-CBN franchise bill

"If Duterte does not crack the whip and lawmakers are allowed to vote according to their conscience, the HOR will pass the bill."

The House of Representatives’ (HOR) joint committee hearings on the ABS-CBN franchise renewal bill are showing the Filipino people how desperate some lawmakers are in blocking the bill’s passage.

Leading the pack are party list representative Rodante Marcoleta, and Cavite Congressmen Elpidio Barzaga, Jr. and Crispin Remulla. Those primarily taking the cudgels for ABS-CBN are Representatives Edcel Lagman, Rufus Rodriguez, Carlos Zarate, and Lawrence Fortun.

When the network’s franchise expired and it went off air due to the National Telecommunications Commission’s (NTC) cease and desist order instead of a provisional permit to operate, it became obvious that the issue will drag on. In the first place, the HOR should have processed the bill much earlier since the most recent bill was filed in 2016.

Now, because of the strong pressure from the Filipino people, the HOR has to work doubly hard even as it is on recess. In fairness to the Chairpersons of the Committees involved, the series of hearings so far has been transparent. Those following the proceedings can very well form their opinions based on statements of experts and key players in relation with the franchise issue.

Those opposing the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise have put forward a number of issues that according to them, warrant the non-renewal. They allege among others that the network has: violated the Constitution which mandates that media outfits must be 100-percent Filipino owned, and that franchises issued cannot go beyond fifty (50) years; not been paying the correct taxes; and, committed violations of labor laws.

From the time that President Rodrigo Duterte issued statements that the ABS-CBN franchise will not be renewed, three major issues were surfaced by those who follow the franchise question: political harassment, attack on press freedom, and curtailment of the right to access information particularly of ordinary people especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That the President himself, the highest official of the land, has come out several times saying that the franchise will not be renewed, equates to pressure on the legislative department. Congress is supposedly a co-equal branch of government and the presidential statements is a direct signal to his allies to reject the bill on franchise renewal.

After the HOR was heavily criticized over the NTC’s cease and desist order and ABS-CBN’s going off air, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano convened the House as the Committee of the Whole and proposed a bill granting the network a provisional franchise until October 2020. This was eventually opposed by members and decided instead to proceed with the committee hearings on the franchise bill.

One needs tons of patience to seriously follow the hearings which, to date, have discussed the constitutionality issues of ownership and length of allowable franchises. The more I watch the proceedings, the more I am convinced that ABS-CBN deserves to have its franchise renewed.

Reps. Marcoleta, Barzaga, and Remulla tried very hard, BUT FAILED, to show that the network is not 100-percent Filipino-owned by making it appear that Mr. Gabby Lopez, Chair Emeritus of ABS-CBN Corporation is NOT Filipino but American. These lawmakers could not seem to comprehend that Mr. Lopez has dual citizenship because he was born in the USA of Filipino parents making him both a Filipino and an American by virtue of the citizenship laws of the Philippines and the USA. Unfortunately for Marcoleta et. al, the Constitution does not prohibit Filipinos with dual citizenship from owning media corporations.

They also attempted to show that the network has foreign owners because of the Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) sold by the holding company to foreigners who are restricted from owning shares of ABS and are only entitled to cash distributions based on their PDRs. All pertinent government agencies including the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have testified to the legality of both PDRs and the existence of holding companies.

In fact, SEC said that the other major television network, GMA7, also has PDRs which are exactly the same, word for word, as those of ABS except for the price. Yet, GMA7 was granted its franchise without much problem. Why then, is this an issue for ABS-CBN?

Marcoleta said that ABS-CBN should not be granted a new franchise because the Constitution limits the effectivity of franchises to only 50 years, and the network has been operational for longer than that. This argument was shredded into pieces by showing that many of the big Philippine corporations including other media outfits and public utilities have been operating for much longer than ABS. The Constitutional restriction is per franchise and not meant to limit corporate existence to only fifty years. Again, Marcoleta lost here.

During the last hearing, Marcoleta made it appear that they have already proven that ABS-CBN is guilty of several violations. He said this repeatedly as if conditioning the minds of those watching that this was so. He was very aptly countered by Rep. Zarate who clearly stated that the hearings are for the facts to come out and that NOTHING has been proven.

The antics of those opposing the ABS-CBN franchise bill (some bordering on the absurd) are actually convincing more people that the franchise should be granted. If Duterte does not crack the whip and lawmakers are allowed to vote according to their conscience, the HOR will pass the bill.

@bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook

Topics: Elizabeth Angsioco , House of Representatives , ABS-CBN , franchise bill , National Telecommunications Commission , NTC
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