Cayetano: Resumption of ABS-CBN hearings ‘does not mean automatic renewal’

Mara Cepeda
The renewal of ABS-CBN's franchise is still not a House priority after Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano says 'there are still other concerns that need to be resolved' first

ABS-CBN STILL NOT A PRIORITY. Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano holds a press conference on February, 24, 2020. File photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Resuming deliberations to renew the ABS-CBN franchise is still not a priority for the House, as Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said a “hearing does not mean automatic renewal.”

This was the Speaker’s response on Tuesday, May 12, to a letter penned by 14 legislators who co-authored the bills that would have renewed the media network’s franchise, which already expired on May 4. (READ: Bill authors ask Cayetano: ‘Put an end to confusion,’ resume ABS-CBN hearings)

“We remain cognizant of our responsibility in addressing the pending issue of the ABC-CBN franchise. To those calling for an immediate hearing on this matter, including my colleagues in Congress, let me just be very clear – a hearing does not mean automatic renewal,” Cayetano said in a Facebook post. 

“While the deception of the National Telecommunications Commission and the meddling of the Solicitor General [Jose Calida] adds exigency to the matter, there are still other concerns that need to be resolved,” the Speaker said.

The NTC ordered ABS-CBN to close its television and radio operations on May 5 after Calida warned against an issuance of a provisional authority that would have allowed the network to keep operating while its franchise bills are still pending in Congress.

In their letter, the bill authors said the House committee on legislative franchises should soon continue hearing the pending ABS-CBN franchise measures now that Cayetano and the lower chamber are being blamed for the network’s closure.

The House – where all franchise bills must emanate from – had dragged its feet in tackling ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal for months. But Cayetano believes the NTC and Calida are at fault, not the House. 

President Rodrigo Duterte and Cayetano – running mates in the 2016 polls – both have accused the network of unfair election coverage in the past. The President even warned last year that ABS-CBN’s franchise would not be renewed.

When exactly?

As in the past months, the Speaker said the House needs to attend to more important matters first – like responding to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic – before focusing on the ABS-CBN franchise renewal.

He said ABS-CBN would be given a “fair” hearing, but still did not provide a date as to when the next proceedings will be. 

“As to the hearing, the only thing it guarantees is that the network will be able to present its case, in the same manner as those who oppose it… Without a series of ‘proper’ hearings, we will never be able to put an end to the uncertainties and doubt,” Cayetano said. 

“Ultimately, it is only through a fair, impartial, comprehensive, and thorough presentation and appreciation of the evidence that we can clear the air. Your House of the People will put the interest of the Filipino people first, and in these extraordinary times prioritization, fairness and timing is of utmost importance,” the Speaker added.  

 

Only one House hearing has been held so far – last March 10 – when NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba told lawmakers they would “most likely” give ABS-CBN the provisional authority to operate.

Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez has since filed a bill seeking to grant ABS-CBN an entirely new franchise.

House committee on legislative franchises chair Franz Alvarez also issued a show cause order to the NTC demanding its officials to explain why they should not be cited in contempt for going against the commitment they made before the panel months ago.

Ranking lawmakers have already called for the NTC’s abolition and pushed for a probe into the alleged “conspiracy” between the agency and Calida. 

But presidential son and Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte and two other House leaders also sought an investigation on the alleged violations of ABS-CBN on its franchise.

It remains to be seen which among the ABS-CBN-related measures filed would be prioritized by Cayetano in the coming days. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.