MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Disgruntled lawmakers have blamed Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and the House leadership for the closure of media giant ABS-CBN.
Buhay Representative Lito Atienza and Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman – both among the authors of the bills renewing the network’s franchise that had already expired – said the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) should not be used as a scapegoat for what Congress failed to do.
NTC issued a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN’s television and radio operations after its franchise expired on Monday, May 4. (READ: ABS-CBN goes off-air after NTC order)
“I would like to apologize for the failure of Congress to do its job. Kasalanan namin ito eh. Kasalanan ng Kongreso ito. But more important, I’d like to say, squarely, kasalanan ni Speaker Cayetano ito. Pagkukulang niya ito sa bayan,” Atienza told ANC’s Headstart on Wednesday, May 6.
(I would like to apologize for the failure of Congress to do its job. This is our fault. This is Congress’ fault. But more important, I’d like to say, squarely, this is Speaker Cayetano’s fault. This is what he failed to do for the nation.)
Atienza slammed the House for dragging its foot on the ABS-CBN franchise bills, the first filed as early as September 2014.
“He (Cayetano) will have a lot to explain one day. It may not be today, but later on, this issue will hound him because he was the one who did not do his job. Even the President kept on reminding him to do your job, magtrabaho kayo, aksyunan ‘nyo ‘yan (work on it, act on it already). What did we do? Nothing,” Atienza said.
Lagman slammed Cayetano for not only delaying the House hearings on the ABS-CBN franchise, but for also insisting that the NTC’s issuance of a provisional authority would have been enough for the network to keep operating beyond May 4.
The opposition lawmaker has long insisted that the House – where all franchise bills must emanate from – should just go ahead and renew ABS-CBN’s franchise.
“The National Telecommunication Commission must not be used as the scapegoat for the patent failure of the leadership of the House of Representatives to resolutely push for the seasonable renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise,” Lagman said.
“I have repeatedly warned that Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s proffered solution for NTC to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority to operate, despite the lapse of its franchise, is against the law and jurisprudence,” he added.
Renewing ABS-CBN’s franchise despite its looming expiration date was never a House priority when Cayetano became Speaker in July 2019. (READ: Cayetano: ‘Congress is not here to comfort ABS-CBN’)
The Speaker himself has an axe to grind against ABS-CBN, which he accused of unfair election coverage in 2010 and 2016. Cayetano was the running mate of then-Davao City mayor and now President Rodrigo Duterte in the 2016 polls.
The President also has grudges against the network, telling ABS-CBN in December 2019 that he would see to it that its franchise would not be renewed. (READ: TIMELINE: Duterte against ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal)
Rappler has repeatedly reached out to Cayetano to comment on the closure of ABS-CBN, but he has yet to reply as of posting time.
Executive steps in if Congress doesn’t do its job
Administration-allied lawmaker Joey Salceda, another co-author of the ABS-CBN franchise renewal bill, said the network’s closure serves as a reminder to Congress that the executive would step in when lawmakers do not do their job.
“My position on the matter has always been clear: It is the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress to determine whether a broadcast network should be granted the privilege to operate, and whether that privilege should remain,” the Albay 2nd District representative said on Tuesday, May 5.
“The NTC action should serve as a warming to Congress that if we do not do our job, the Executive will do it for us, step into any existential void, fill in any power gap guided only by its own narrow worldview of what constitutes national interest,” Salceda added.
Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez, another bill co-author, said on Wednesday that he planned to file a new measure that would grant ABS-CBN a new franchise altogether.
In the meantime, Rodriguez said the House may grant ABS-CBN a provisional franchise valid until June 30, 2022.
“It has to be a new grant and no longer a renewal, since the radio-tv station’s franchise already expired midnight of last May 4…. Now the remedy is for the House to speed up its hearings on my proposals for a temporary franchise and for the grant of a new 25-year broadcasting service privilege,” he said.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said that Duterte was “completely neutral” on the ABS-CBN ssue and wanted lawmakers to vote on the network’s franchise renewal as they please” – even when the President himself had repeatedly made his position clear on the fate of the ABS-CBN franchise.
The House, dominated by administration allies, is traditionally known to vote as the President wishes.
Cayetano had said that the House had been in talks with NTC officials for the issuance of the provisional authority to ABS-CBN around mid-February. He argued that a certification from the House committee on legislative franchises would have been enough for the NTC to grant ABS-CBN a temporary permit.
The House panel then held its first hearing – and the only one it conducted so far – on the ABS-CBN franchise renewal on March 10, when NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba told lawmakers they would “most likely” give ABS-CBN the provisional authority to operate beyond May 4.
Three days before ABS-CBN’s franchise expired, Cayetano gave an assurance that the House has “no intention” to have the network shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He once again said the lower chamber would give a “fair hearing” to ABS-CBN, but did not specify when the next proceedings would be.
Unlike the lower chamber, the Senate approved on March 4 a resolution expressing its sense on ABS-CBN’s continued operations beyond May 4 while Congress is still deliberating on the bills renewing its franchise. – Rappler.com
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