By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Lawmakers said on Tuesday (Feb. 11) that broadcast network ABS-CBN can still operate as long as it is given provisional authority by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to continue doing its business.
PBA party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles and Isabela Rep. Antonio Albano said the Lopez-owned broadcasting firm will continue its operation once it gets the nod from the NTC.
“I think the most important question is whether or not when a franchise is already expired, can they still continue doing the business? The answer to that question is they may continue to do business granted provisional authority is given to them by the regulating authority.
“If it is a telecommunications franchise, then it is the national telecommunications commission that will give them provisional authority. Likewise, if it was a broadcast, then it is another NTC question whether they would be given an extension or provisional authority,” Nograles, member of the House committee on legislative franchises, told reporters in an interview.
“It doesn’t mean na automatic na mag off the air (it will automatically go off the air), but it will be off the air if the NTC will not give them provisional authority, pending the hearings of Congress.”
Nograles said the House committee on legislative franchises, chaired by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, has yet to calendar for its discussion the 11 measures seeking to renew the franchise of broadcast network ABS-CBN for another 25 years.
Albano, vice chairman of the House committee on legislative franchises, agreed with Nograles that the ABS-CBN can still operate until 2022 even if the legislative franchise is not granted to them by March 30 this year.
“May I remind the public that even if ABS-CBN’s franchise expires on the said date in March, it does not mean that ABS-CBN will close completely because the rule of thumb in the committee is that while this 18th Congress is still ongoing, hindi po titigil ang services ng ABS-CBN hanggat matapos ang 18th Congress (the services of the ABS-CBN will not stop until the 18th Congress ends),” he said.
He assured the public that the committee would tackle measures renewing the legislative franchise of the ABS-CBN.
“Deliberation of the committee has to be done it such a way that we have to calendar it. We assure the public later on that we will hear the case because our chairman and the leadership of the House, in particular has been closely monitoring the events, but we also have a lot of other issues to tackle before we can tackle the ABS-CBN franchise,” Albano said.
He noted that the panel had closed-door meetings on the issue “because we don’t want to be pressured by any sides.”
“If we are going to pursue the President’s angle, we can easily just hear the case and dismiss the franchise of ABS-CBN, knowing for a fact that there are so many violations that supposedly happened with ABS-CBN. Although there is massive amount of pressure coming from the President, we in the Congress as a separate branch of institution and a separate branch of power has to go by our own rules, our own pace, to hear the cases that are filed,” he added.
Nograles said the quo warranto petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General against ABS-CBN Corp. would not stop the House of Representatives from tackling measures seeking to renew the franchise of the television giant.
“I am pretty sure that Congress can continue doing its own business in hearing matters of legislative franchise. So whether or not there is [a] quo warranto case filed with the Supreme Court, I don’t think that can change the schedule of hearings,” he said.
The call of Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza for Alvarez to resign as chairman of the House committee on legislative franchises did not sit well with Nograles and Albano.
“If you ask the chairman to resign, that would further delay the schedule of the committee business. Any change in the committee leadership will definitely affect the scheduling, and delay scheduling. I don’t this it will benefit anybody,” Nograles said.
For his part, Albano said, “I do believe that we do not support the call of Rep. Atienza. We know for a fact that we have a hard-working chairman. That the chairman is doing his best…This not the only franchise that was filed in the committee and that we all have more responsibilities than they know.”
At the plenary session on Monday (Feb. 11), Atienza asked Alvarez to resign if he cannot immediately call for a hearing on bills seeking ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal. He even asked Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to act on the issue.
In a speech before earthquake victims in M’lang, North Cotabato in December last year, President Duterte said it would be better for the Lopezes to sell their network, hinting at the possibility that its franchise will not be granted.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano had given the assurance that the House of Representatives would give due attention to the measures concerning freedom of the press, including the proposed renewal of the legislative franchise of ABS-CBN Corp.
He said like with any other hearings, it is the obligation of Congress to be “fair” and “to bring out those real issues and to give the other side the opportunity to respond and determine who is right.”
In 2017, President Duterte publicly declared he would oppose the renewal of ABS-CBN’s legislative franchise. Since then, he has launched repeated tirades against the network for its supposed refusal to run his advertisements during the 2016 election campaign and for showing an ad critical of him.
Among the authors of the franchise bill are Aragones, Nueva Ecija Rep. Micaela Violago, Deputy Speakers Vilma Santos and Baby Arenas, Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Sato, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, and Albay Rep. Joey Salceda.
The House of Representatives failed to act on the bill during the previous 17th Congress.