By Ben Rosario
Finally, legislative proposals seeking to renew the ABS-CBN Corporation franchise and those of its affiliates will be formally taken up by the House Committee on Legislative Franchise on March 10, sparking hopes of a better chance for its continued operation in the next 25 years.
But Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano made it clear that after the introduction of the 11 bills, deliberations on the pros and cons of the proposed franchise is not part of the March 10 agenda.
Committee chairman and Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez said the House panel will adjourn after he has delivered his opening remarks, briefed the parties of the ground rules of the hearing and instructed the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to allow the embattled network’s operation way past the expiration of its legislative franchise on May 4.
Cayetano explained that the hearing, to be conducted on the eve of the start of the congressional break, will only tackle the ground rules, while actual deliberations on the 11 bills will take place in May.
“We will tell the NTC that Congress is already working on it (the legislative franchise),” said the House leader during a press conference.
On the other hand, Alvarez expressed optimism that the NTC will heed the Lower House’s call not to shut down ABS-CBN after May 4.
He pointed out that NTC has granted same requests in the past for other private firms and state-run firms whose congressional franchises have already expired but have pending extension proposals before Congress.
Alvarez said he expects the courts not to intervene notwithstanding the pendency of a petition for quo warranto filed by the Office of the Solicitor General before the Supreme Court.
In the quo warranto case, the OSG urged the court to stop the broadcast giant from operating for allegedly violating conditions in its existing legislative franchise.
“I believe the Department of Justice supports our position that ABS-CBN may continue to operate with NTC’s permission,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez said NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba has been invited to the Tuesday hearing.
In the same press conference, Cayetano chided Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and other proponents of a House resolution proposing to skip committee proceedings for the ABS-CBN franchise and instead refer the bills immediately for plenary deliberation.
“Congressional hearings on bills are very important. We cannot sacrifice democracy in the name of expediency,” said Cayetano as he noted that Lagman has been causing delays on other bills yet is demanding the leadership to fast-track the ABS-CBN measures.
Alvarez said the Lagman resolution will be ignored by the House panel.
To be presented in the hearings are the following bills: House Bill 676 authored by Rep. Micaela Violago; HB 3521 by Deputy Speaker Rose Marie Arenas; HB 3713 by Rep. Joy Myra Tambunting; HB 3947 by Rep. Sol Aragones; HB 4305 by Deputy Speaker Vilma Santos-Recto; HB 5608 by Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales, Rep. Johnny Pimentel, and Rep. Doy C. Leachon; HB 5705 by Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Satos; HB 6052 by Reps. Carlos Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite, Eufemia Cullamat, France Castro, Sarah Jane Elago; HB 6138 by Rep. Mark Go and HB 6293 by Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda.