House to delay ABS-CBN hearings until May or August

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the House is likely to delay hearings on ABS-CBN's franchise until May or August, even if the media network's franchise is already expiring on March 30.

There are pending bills seeking to renew ABS-CBN's franchise for another 25 years.

On Thursday, February 20, the Speaker – who himself has grudges against the country's biggest media network – said the House would probably begin hearing the bills only in May or the first week of August. (READ: NUJP submits 200,000 signatures to Congress for ABS-CBN franchise renewal)

"May or July, ah sorry, August, kasi last week, dahil doon sa huling linggo ng July, more SONA (State of the Nation Address) 'yun eh. So right after SONA, objectively is early August," Cayetano told reporters in Iba, Zambales, when asked when the House committee on legislative franchises would begin hearing the ABS-CBN franchise bills. 

(May or July, sorry, I meant August because the last week of July is more for issues related to the SONA. So right after SONA, objectively, we can hold it early August.)

The President is constitutionally mandated to deliver his SONA every 4th Monday of July. The 18th Congress is also set to adjourn session on March 14 for the summer break and resume only on May 4.

ABS-CBN's current franchise, 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 signed into law, ABS-CBN would have to close down its radio and television operations.

Cayetano, however, insists ABS-CBN would not have to shut down after March even if no law has been passed renewing its franchise. He said ABS-CBN could secure provisional authority to operate from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), while the 18th Congress has not adjourned sine die.

"Kasi po ang ABS-CBN, hindi po magsasara. Mayroon po tayong ugnayan sa NTC na gagawin habang naghi-hearing kami or habang pending sa amin, [para] hindi magsasara," the Speaker said. 

(ABS-CBN will not shut down. We will have talks with the NTC while we are holding the hearings or while the bill is pending with us, so that the network will not have to close.)

As the House continues to sit on the 11 bills that would renew ABS-CBN's franchise, Senate public services committee chairperson Grace Poe already scheduled the first hearing on the upper chamber's version of the measure on February 24. 

But a franchise bill must first be approved by the House before the Senate can vote on it. (READ: How media outlets get their license to operate)

The chances of ABS-CBN's franchise renewal remain bleak, as both President Rodrigo Duterte and Cayetano – running mates in the 2016 elections – have an axe to grind against the network. 

Duterte accused the network of allegedly "swindling" him for not airing his paid political advertisements during the campaign, while Cayetano claimed ABS-CBN gave unfair airtime to candidates. 

Cayetano already said he finds no urgency to hold hearings on ABS-CBN even if its franchise is set to expire in a month, citing the need to prioritize pet bills of the administration, including the measure lowering corporate income tax and the proposed  Corporate Income Tax and Incentive Rationalization Act (Citira).

"No one is saying na 'wag nating pag-usapan. Ang sinasabi ko, 'pag schinedule ko for hearing ngayon 'yan, lahat no'ng energy ng buong Kongreso diyan pupunta. Walang mag-a-attend ng ibang hearing," Cayetano said.

(No one is saying that we shouldn't discuss it. What I'm saying is, if I schedule it for a hearing now, the energy of the entire Congress will be spent on that matter. No one will attend other hearings.)

"So sabi sa akin no'ng isa, 'Sir, hindi ba importante sa 'yo 'yong 11,000 jobs ng ABS?' Importante sa akin, pero importante rin sa akin 'yong daang libong trabaho at milyong trabaho na puwedeng makuha ng Pilipinas pag 'yong Citira or 'yong pagiging competitive ng ating bansa sa pagbaba ng corporate income tax ay mapasa natin," he added.

(Someone asked me, "Sir, aren't the 11,000 jobs in ABS-CBN important to you?' They are, but the hundreds of thousands to millions of jobs that the Philippines may get once the Citira bill and the bill that would make our country more competitive through the lowering of income tax are passed are also important to me.)

Lawmakers, rights groups, and even celebrities have condemned the moves to shut down ABS-CBN and to stifle press freedom in the country. – 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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