House okays ABS-CBN provisional franchise bill on second reading

By Filane Mikee Cervantes  | PNA

MANILA – The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved on second reading a measure seeking to grant media giant ABS-CBN a provisional franchise valid until Oct. 31, 2020.

During the plenary session, the lower chamber passed through voice voting House Bill No. 6732, which seeks to grant the ABS-CBN Corporation a franchise to construct, install, operate, and maintain radio and television broadcasting stations in the Philippines.

In his sponsorship speech, Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte said the main rationale of the bill is to enable Congress to have an “impartial, comprehensive, and extensive” hearing to address the issues surrounding the ABS-CBN franchise.

He pertained to the network’s issues of taxes, labor conditions, foreign ownership, pay-per-view service, and Philippine Depositary Receipts.

“If we do not extensively hear the issues surrounding this franchise, we will be reneging on our constitutional duty and mandate to ensure a due process that will enable us, members of Congress, to decide freely and objectively whether to approve or deny this franchise,” Villafuerte said.

“We want to grant a temporary provisional franchise until October of this year because this is a contentious bill… We have to hear all sides,” he added.

Earlier in the day, the House Committee of the Whole approved the provisional franchise measure.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who is a principal author of the bill, said the sudden turn-around of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) from its earlier commitment during a March 10 House hearing to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority has distracted Congress from focusing on the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

The NTC issued a cease and desist order on May 5 against ABS-CBN to stop the operations of its television and radio stations after the broadcast firm’s legislative franchise expired on May 4.

“This distraction is the reason why we must not allow the betrayal of NTC and the unconstitutional meddling of the Solicitor General in this exclusive power of Congress to go unchallenged,” he said,, referring to the power to grant or cancel any franchise.

“Their actions are not only an upfront to this institution, it also delays the discussion and passage of crucial legislation that our people sorely need,” he added.

He said the grant of a provisional franchise to ABS-CBN would give Congress time to assess with complete impartiality and fairness whether or not the network shall be granted a franchise for another 25 years.

“We cannot, in good conscience, sweep the accusations under the rug and proceed as if nothing happened. As we have always promised, these hearings will be fair, impartial, and above all, thorough,” Cayetano said.

“There will be no rush to judgment. Both the praise for and the charges against the network will be heard and will be put on public record,” he added.

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