By Divina NJD Cruz / Manila Times
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said, at the earliest, the House of Representatives could take up the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise in May, which is more than a month after the franchise expires on March 30.
“When the time comes, but definitely before March 2022. Possibly in May, if we have enough time and we have cooler heads and with all the issues. Worst case, after SONA (in July),” Cayetano told reporters after a mass wedding ceremony in Paranaque City yesterday.
The SONA is President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address.
ABS-CBN’s 25-year franchise expires on March 30.
Eleven bills, regarding its renewal, are pending at the House Committee on Legislative Franchises.
Congress will have a break on March 11 for the Holy Week and will resume in May.
While he considered the issue as important, Cayetano said the House was attending to more urgent matters such as the coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak.
He said the issue is not urgent since the giant media entity would still be allowed to operate until the end of the 18th Congress.
“Don’t get me wrong. The franchise of ABS-CBN is important not just to the 11,000 employees. It is important to the whole country, to our democracy. But, it is not that urgent.
Why? Because it can still operate until 2022,” the speaker added.
Cayetano said the point of having franchise hearings was to reassess the network if it merits a renewal.
He, however, assured that Congress would be fair in reviewing the ABS-CBN franchise.
“The only pressure is to do what is right. I am not pressured on what the president wants. I am not pressured with the media or the supporters of ABS-CBN.
I am pressured that history will judge us. It will be a defining moment, not only for the 18th Congress, but also for ABS-CBN,” Cayetano said.
The speaker admitted that the network’s franchise is an issue of press freedom, but that accountability must also be sought after.
He said the House would look at all allegations against the network, including the points raised by Solicitor General Jose Calida in the quo warranto petition he filed before the Supreme Court.
One of the personalities supporting the franchise’s renewal is Quezon City Mayor Josefina Belmonte.
“By tradition, Quezon City is also known as a bastion of freedom, knowledge and diversity, and the presence of multiple media networks in QC embodies these values,” she said in a statement.
ABS-CBN is one of the top taxpayers in Quezon City and had supported many of the city’s significant programmes and projects, Belmonte said.
The city also entered into several partnerships with the late Gina Lopez, former Environment secretary, in various projects such as the cleaning of esteros.
ABS-CBN’s Bantay Kalikasan is also the city’s partner in protecting and preserving the La Mesa Ecopark.
Meanwhile, Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go assured that ABS-CBN would be treated fairly if measures seeking to renew its franchise would be approved in the House and transmitted to the Senate.
“We will give a fair hearing once it reaches the Senate. Our concern here is the welfare of every Filipino, welfare of the employees, and rest assured that the interest of every Filipino is the priority consideration of whatever decision I will make,” he said.
Because the bills have been filed, Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd and Isabela First District Rep. Antonio Albano stated in interviews that the existing franchise is deemed extended until the end of the 18th Congress in March 2022, unless Congress decides earlier to deny it.
“There are several legal issues being tackled now. Let’s wait for the legal opinion of the DoJ (Department of Justice) or our NTC (National Telecommunications Commission),” Go said.
Calida filed the quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court to revoke the franchise of ABS-CBN allegedly because of, among others, allowing foreign ownership.
Last February 12, Senator Mary Grace Poe filed a Senate resolution directing the Committee on Public Services to investigate the compliance of the network to its franchise.
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