House begins ‘proceedings’ on ABS-CBN franchise, asks for position papers

MANILA, Philippines – After sitting on the bills renewing the franchise of ABS-CBN, the House committee on legislative franchises will begin “proceedings” on the measures by asking all parties to submit their position papers. 

In a text message to Rappler, panel chairperson Franz Alvarez said this will be formally announced during the committee on legislative franchises’ meeting on Monday, February 24. 

“The committee will ask all sides (pro/anti) to submit their position papers so that we can start reviewing them before we hold our hearing proper for the franchise renewal,” the Palawan 1st District congressman said.

This legislative franchises panel's meeting, however, was not included in the list of committee hearings posted in the House website as of posting. 

Alvarez said the House committee will schedule the first hearing on the ABS-CBN franchise renewal bills only when they are done reviewing all position papers. 

But he did not say how long it would take for the committee to go through all documents nor when the hearing would likely happen. In contrast, the Senate public services committee is set to hold its first hearing on ABS-CBN on Monday.  

At least 12 bills have been filed in the House that would renew for another 25 years the soon-to-expire franchise of ABS-CBN, the country’s biggest media network.  Its current franchise, approved under Republic Act Np. 7966, is already due to expire on March 30. (READ: What's taking Congress so long to tackle ABS-CBN's franchise?)

Despite calls from other lawmakers and media groups for the House to begin deliberating on these bills, the committee on legislative franchises has yet to schedule any hearing.  

No less than President Rodrigo Duterte and Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano – running mates in the 2016 elections – both have grudges against ABS-CBN.  

Duterte accused the network of “swindling” him for not airing his paid political advertisements during the campaign, while Cayetano claimed vice presidential candidates were given unfair air time. 

These allegations, on top of Cayetano’s argument that the House needs to prioritze tax bills first, are the reasons cited by the Speaker why he had said the lower chamber would likely begin hearing the ABS-CBN franchise bills only in May or early August – when the network’s franchise will be long expired. 

Alvarez insists ABS-CBN won’t close down 

In a separate interview with ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda show, Alvarez said the network would not need to close down should Congress fail to renew its franchise by March 30. 

He said his committee is currently in talks with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) so the latter could give provisional authority to the media network to continue operating.  

“Sa ngayon po, habang dinidinig po ang prangkisa ng ABS-CBN sa Kongreso, nakikipag-ugnayan po kami sa NTC upang siguraduhin na ang network ay magpapatuloy ng kanilang pagbo-broadcast. Hinahintay din po namin 'yung opinyon ng DOJ (Department of Justice) tungkol dito,” Alvarez said. (READ: DOJ asked to weigh in if ABS-CBN can continue operating after March 30)

(Right now, while Congress is hearing the bills on franchise of ABS-CBN, we are in talks with NTC to ensure the network would continue its broadcast. We're also waiting for the opinion of DOJ.)

The House committee chair argued this was done before for the franchise of faith-based station Radio Veritas.

But legal experts told Rappler it would be illegal for ABS-CBN to continue operating until 2022 under its current franchise once its expires by March.  

Jun Rodriguez, lecturer on Contemporary Issues in Media Law at Ateneo de Manila University’s Masters in Journalism program, argued the pending ABS-CBN franchise bills “are not law.”  

“It is the law that grants the franchise or the right. Without the law that grants the right, there is no right and therefore there is nothing to exercise. The fact that they have the intention, perhaps, to renew it is not exactly the same as renewing it or extending the right to them for another period,” he said. – 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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