House won't tackle ABS-CBN franchise renewal bill in 2019 anymore

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A day after President Rodrigo Duterte's fresh tirades against ABS-CBN Corporation, the House of Representatives will continue to sit on the bills seeking to renew the franchise given to the media network.

On Wednesday, December 4, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, a Duterte ally, said lawmakers have "more than enough time" to tackle the measure in January and February next year. ABS-CBN's legislative franchise, however, expires by March 30, 2020.

"I reiterate that Congress would be fair. We'll always have a fair hearing. Alam naman 'to din ng management ng ABS-CBN na inuna namin 'yung budget at saka mga revenue bills (ABS-CBN's management knows we prioritized the budget and the revenue bills)," Cayetano said in an ambush interview.

"Pero we have more than enough time, more than enough time to tackle it in January, February, dahil March pa naman 'yung expiration ng franchise (But we have more than enough time to tackle it in January, February because the expiration of the franchise is still in March)," added the Taguig City-Pateros congressman.

House committee on legislative franchises chairperson Franz Alvarez told CNN Philippines that his panel has no committee hearings scheduled anymore until December 20, when the 18th Congress adjourns session for the holidays.

"Wala nang hearing for the year (There are no more hearings for the year)," the Palawan 1st District congressman said in a quick phone interview.

This means there will be no committee deliberations this month for at least 5 bills in the House seeking to renew ABS-CBN's legislative franchise for another 25 years. 

This goes against Cayetano's earlier pronouncement that the House would begin tackling the bills by end-2019. 

On Tuesday night, December 3, Duterte once again vowed to block the renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN, which he previously accused of "swindling" him for supposedly not airing his paid political advertisements during the 2016 presidential campaign. (READ: Duterte to ABS-CBN: Sorry, don't expect franchise renewal)

Cayetano, Duterte's running mate in 2016, earlier said he has a "personal complaint" against ABS-CBN, citing the alleged unfair airtime given by the network to vice presidential candidates. 

Still, the Speaker assured ABS-CBN of "fair" deliberations in the House and said Duterte "respects" the legislative process.  

"As you know, he's the President at mayroon siyang stand sa mga issues so nirerespeto natin 'yan. Having said that, nirerespeto rin ng ating Pangulo 'yung proseso so hintayin na lang natin 'yung proseso na 'yun. But even the President admits that there has to be a fair process," Cayetano said.

(As you know, he's the President and he has a stand on issues so we respect that. Having said that, the President also respects the process so let's just wait for that to happen. But even the President admits there has to be a fair process.)

In a separate press conference, House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr said lawmakers have not yet received any marching orders from Cayetano regarding how to proceed with the bill.

But he believes that if members of the House majority decide to take their cue from Duterte, ABS-CBN's franchise would not be renewed.

"Sa minority po (In the minority), we are free to decide whether we grant the franchise or not. Of course, hindi ko masasabi sa majority congressmen (I can't say the same for the majority congressmen). They might perhaps toe the line with President," said Abante.

"So kung halimbawa i-to-toe po ng maraming congressman [ang gusto ng Pangulo], of course it's almost next to impossible to actually renew the franchise (So if for example many congressmen would toe the line and follow the President, of course it's almost next to impossible to actually renew the franchise)," added the Manila 6th District congressman.

ABS-CBN's current franchise, which was approved through Republic Act No. 7966 on March 30, 1995, is set to expire on March 30, 2020. If the bill renewing the franchise does not get signed into law, ABS-CBN would have to close down its radio and television operations. – 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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