Malacañang says Duterte 'not inclined' to veto ABS-CBN franchise bill

President Rodrigo Duterte will not veto the bill giving ABS-CBN a fresh 25-year franchise once it reaches his desk, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Thursday, May 7.

"Unless there is any constitutional infirmity, I don't think the President is inclined to veto it," Roque said during Thursday's virtual briefing.

If the franchise bill is passed by both houses of Congress, then the measure would be up for Duterte's signature. It may also lapse into law if the President fails to sign the bill  30 days after his office receives it.

The media giant went off air on Tuesday, May 5, after the National Telecommunications Commission ordered it closed because the network's franchise expired. ABS-CBN on Thursday challenged the shutdown order at the Supreme Court.

Roque reiterated that the President was supposedly "neutral" on the franchise of the shuttered network, even as Duterte himself said in 2019 that it was better for the Lopezes to just sell nertwork. (READ: Bong Go: It's those anti-Duterte ads on ABS-CBN that got the boss’ goat)

"Independent at co-equal branch ang Kongreso. Ayaw naman nyang diktahan. (Congress is independent and a co-equal branch. He doesn't want to dictate on them.) It's enough that he has cleared the air, that he is now neutral, as far as the franchise of ABS-CBN is concerned," the presidential spokesman said.

Archdiocese of Manila apostolic administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo said that the "specter of Martial Law is coming up." Asked for comment, Roque said it's far from it, saying that ABS-CBN was only shuttered. The last time the broadcast behemoth was knocked off the air was in September 1972.

"Nirerespeto po natin ang desisyon ni Bishop pero ang katotohanan po bukas po ang Kongreso, bukas po ang ating Supreme Court at ating ibang mga hukuman. Bukas po ang mga media outlet bukod lamang po sa ABS-CBN dahil nawalan nga siya ng prangkisa. So sa tingin ko po malayong-malayo tayo sa sitwasyon ng Martial Law noong 1972," Roque said.

(We respect the Bishop's decision, but the reality is that Congress, the Supreme Court, and other courts are open. Other media outlets are open too, except for ABS-CBN because its franchise lapsed. I believe we're far from the situation during Martial Law in 1972.)

Congress 'listens'

Since the media giant's franchise expired on May 4, there is nothing to renew now. Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez has filed House Bill 6694, seeking a fresh 25-year franchise for ABS-CBN.

Roque believes that public uproar on ABS-CBN's closure does not fall on deaf ears, citing his and Duterte's experience as congressmen. 

"Hindi naman po nagbubulag-bulagan, hindi nagbibingi-bingihan ang mga representante sa mga hinaing ng taumbayan," Roque said. (Our representatives does not turn a blind eye nor pretend to be deaf on the people's pleas.)

Disgruntled congressmen have blamed Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano – Duterte's close ally – and the House leadership for the closure of ABS-CBN. 

Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman blamed Cayetano for delaying House hearings and insisting that a House letter would be sufficient for NTC to allow ABS-CBN operations post-franchise expiry.

Franchise bills must first be approved by the House of the Representatives, before the Senate can tackle it. Several bills have been filed in the 17th and 18th Congress seeking to renew ABS-CBN's franchise, but these remained pending.

ABS-CBN Corporation's expired 25-year franchise was approved through Republic Act No. 7966 on March 30, 1995, and became effective 15 days after its publication on April 19 that year.

NTC initially committed to issuing a provisional authority to the media giant, but backtracked after Solicitor General Jose Calida warned against such action. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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