House panel chair: ABS-CBN franchise issue ‘best left to the next Congress’

The chair of the House committee on legislative franchises doused hopes that his panel would reconsider its denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise under the Duterte administration. 

“Based on my understanding from the House leadership, the ABS-CBN franchise issue is best left to the next Congress,” Palawan 1st District Representative Franz Alvarez said on Thursday, January 28.

Alvarez made the statement a day after Anakalusugan Representative Mike Defensor – one of the media giant’s main accusers during the franchise hearings last year – asked the plenary to act on pending House Bill (HB) No. 6732 that seeks to give ABS-CBN an interim franchise for 6 months. 

Defensor, however, failed to note that HB 6732 seeks to give the now-shutdown ABS-CBN a provisional franchise until October 31, 2020 only. 

Even if the House plenary decides to act on this bill, Alvarez said it would already be “moot and academic.”

Deposed House speaker Alan Peter Cayetano had co-authored the interim franchise bill for ABS-CBN, but later decided to drop it so the hearings on the network's main franchise application would resume in the chamber.

Th House committee on legislative franchises then rejected ABS-CBN's bid for a franchise renewal in July 2020 following President Rodrigo Duterte's sustained threats against the network. 

Even before the rejection, ABS-CBN was already ordered to cease its television and radio operations when its 25-year-old franchise expired on May 4, 2020.

Legislators denied ABS-CBN’s franchise bid over alleged "numerous violations" – a decision widely condemned as politically motivated under a House dominated by Duterte allies. 

Cayetano had defended the closure of ABS-CBN, saying legislators did the country a favor by "reclaiming patrimony from oligarchs."

He was later ousted by his rival, now Speaker Lord Allan Velaco, also an ally of the President.

Earlier this month, House Deputy Speaker Vilma Santos Recto and Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III filed their respective bills giving a fresh franchise to ABS-CBN.

But Alvarez said last year’s decision of the House committee on legislative franchises against the network is already final. 

“The ABS-CBN franchise issue was put to rest when the committee, voting 70-11, rejected the network’s franchise application on July 10, 2020,” Alvarez said. 

“Under the rules, any one of the 70 House members who voted against the franchise application could file a motion for reconsideration on behalf of ABS-CBN to challenge the decision of the committee. Unfortunately, there was none, thus the committee decision has become final,” he added. 

After the closure of its broadcast operations, ABS-CBN focused on its digital and cable businesses. But many Filipinos still do not have access to such technology.

The closure of the media network denied citizens a reliable source of information while the country is still struggling with the coronavirus pandemic. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate 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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