House panel chair to ABS-CBN: Franchise renewal ‘not a right, but a privilege’

MANILA, Philippines – The chairperson of the House committee on legislative franchises told ABS-CBN Corporation that securing a franchise from Congress is “not a right, but a privilege.”

Panel chairperson and Palawan 1st District Representative Franz Alvarez said this on Thursday, January 2, as he again promised that his committee would deliberate on the bills proposing to renew for another 25 years the media titan’s soon-to-expire franchise.

“The advice of Speaker Alan [Peter Cayetano] to us was to make sure that we would be always fair and impartial in reviewing the application of ABS-CBN, or the application of any other public utility,  for that matter. At the same time it is Congress' duty to accept complaints and hear issue brought up in any complaint or objection,” Alvarez said in a statement.

“But we should all be reminded that under the law, the grant of a franchise is not a right, but a privilege. This is why we have to hear all sides, and find out if ABS-CBN violated the provisions of its franchise,” he added.

The chances of ABS-CBN having its franchise renewed remains bleak, as both President Rodrigo Duterte and Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Duterte’s running mate in the 2016 elections, have grudges against the media network.

Duterte  accused ABS-CBN of "swindling" him for supposedly not airing his paid political advertisements during the 2016 presidential campaign, while Cayetano alleged vice presidential candidates were given unfair airtime given by the network. 

Alvarez said these are the issues his committee would have to discuss to determine whether the President and the Speaker have legitimate grievances against ABS-CBN.  (READ: [OPINION] ABS-CBN and its struggle to obtain its franchise

Cayetano said last year the House panel would already tackle the ABS-CBN franchise renewal, but 2019 ended without a single committee hearing. 

Two days before the end of 2019, Duterte even told ABS-CBN to “just sell” the network because it was unlikely Congress would renew its  franchise. The House of Representatives is packed with allies of the administration. (READ: NUJP urges Filipinos to uphold press freedom amid attacks vs ABS-CBN)

Yet Alvarez insisted on Thursday that the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN – known for its primetime news show TV Patrol, its news channel ANC, and radio stations like dzMM – is supposedly not freedom of the press issue. 

He cited the Radio Communications Philippines Inc v. National Telecommunications Commission Supreme Court case, where the justices ruled the grant of franchise is “merely a privilege emanating from the sovereign power of the state and owing its existence to a grant, is subject to regulation by the state itself by virtue of its police power through its administrative agencies."

“The issue involves the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN. There is no attempt to muzzle or control the media here so do not try to make this a press freedom issue when it is not,” said Alvarez.  

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 is 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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