Cayetano: I don’t want my stint to end without finishing ABS-CBN hearings

MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said he does not want his 15-month term as top leader of the House of Representatives to end without completing the hearings on the ABS-CBN franchise issue.

Cayetano said this in a TV Patrol interview posted online on Wednesday night, May 13, after the House approved on 2nd reading House Bill (HB) 6732, which seeks to grant the network a provisional franchise valid until October 31, 2020. The Speaker and 7 other House leaders co-authored the measure. 

After anchor Ted Failon asked for the rationale behind the 5-month temporary franchise for ABS-CBN, Speaker acknowledged his end of the term-sharing deal with Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco will also fall in October.

“And Ted, ayoko maghugas ng kamay eh. October is the date no’ng palitan namin sa Speaker. So ayoko matapos no’n, sabihin, ‘Eh walang hearing. Walang oras eh,’ ’di ba?” Cayetano said. 

(And Ted, I don't want to wash my hands. October is the date when we would be changing the Speaker. So I don't want my term to end and say, 'There's no hearing anymore. We ran out of time,' right?)

The Speaker said the House would likely conduct hearings on ABS-CBN and its alleged violations between August to September to give more time to the Senate to also tackle the measure. By law, all franchise bills emanate from the House.

“So once and for all, itong August, September [gagawin na namin ang hearings]. At makikita 'nyo, Ted, kasi 'pag 'di namin tinapos 'to ng September, hindi magkaka-oras ang Senado, kasi bicameral 'to eh. They also need time,” Cayetano said. 

(So once and for all, we will be conducting the hearings in August and September. And you see, Ted, if we don't finish it by September, the Senate would run out of time because this is bicameral. They also need time.) 

President Rodrigo Duterte himself had green-lighted the term-sharing deal between Cayetano and Velasco, ending a divisive speakership race last year. Under the agreement, Cayetano would be Speaker for the first 15 months of the 18th Congress, then Velasco would take over in the final 21 months.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, however, Cayetano had accused Velsaco of trying to oust him. But the Marinduque congressman and his allies already denied this. (READ: Is there a House coup or is Cayetano just out to scrap term-sharing with Velasco?) 

The Speaker said the House is targetting to pass the ABS-CBN temporary franchise bill on 3rd and final reading by Monday, May 18. 

But he also previously said the resumption of the ABS-CBN hearings “does not mean automatic renewal” of its franchise.

Why not until 2022? 

In the same interview, the Speaker reasoned that 5 months was the time they estimated for the proper tackling of all issues surrounding ABS-CBN. He had previously accused the broadcast giant of meddling in past elections and allegedly violating tax and labor laws.  

He also disagreed with earlier resolutions filed in the House that proposed to set the validity of ABS-CBN’s provisional franchise to 2022 – the next presidential elections. 

“Para sa akin, freedom of the press and freedom of expression is so important in a democracy. But if you have a giant network who can play kingmaker, in danger din yung democracy. So sa akin, kung bibigyan hanggang end of 2022 or middle of 2022 ang ABS, lalong mapupunta under political pressure ang ABS,” Cayetano said. 

(For me, freedom of the press and freedom of expression are important in a democracy. But if you have a giant network who can play kingmaker, then democracy is also in danger. So for me, if ABS-CBN would be given a franchise until end of 2022 or middle of 2022, they would be put under greater political pressure.)

He argued giving ABS-CBN a temporary franchise valid until the election year would make them even more vulnerable to threats.

“Kasi mangyayari yan pag nag-eeleksyon ng March, April, May, lahat tumatawag sa inyo. [Sasabihan kayo], ‘Pagka kayo hindi maayos, wala kayong franchise sa susunod na administrasyon namin.’ So I would rather na the whole 2021 and going into 2022 may 25-year franchise na kayo kung ibibgay para you can guarantee the independence of the newsroom,” Cayetano said. 

(What would happen is that during the election season in March, April, and May, everyone will be calling you. They'd tell you, "If you don't behave, you would not get the franchise in the next administration." So I woudl rather that in the whole of 2021 and going into 2022, you already have your 25-year franchise, if it will be given, so you can gaurantee the independence of the newsroom.)

He also said doing so would help ABS-CBN’s “new management” more time “to focus on building the culture that they want.” 

The Speaker had delivered a lengthy sponsorship speech for HB 6732 as he defended why the House delayed hearing the bills that would have renewed ABS-CBN’s past franchise, which already expired on May 4. 

He also lashed out against his critics, who blamed him after the National Telecommunications Commission issued a cease and desist order against the media giant. (READ: Cayetano lashes out at critics: ABS-CBN franchise issue 'not about silencing media’)

In a February 24 Senate hearing on ABS-CBN's franchise, government officials already cleared the network over issues of taxes, labor conditions, pay-per-view service, and alleged foreign ownership. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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