By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senators are hopeful that Congress will approve a proposed provisional franchise for television network ABS-CBN before they adjourn sessions on June 3.
The House of Representatives (HOR) on Wednesday afternoon moved to grant the broadcast company a temporary congressional permit that will allow it operate until October 31, 2020.
After its approval by the House Committee of the Whole, House Bill (HB) No. 6732 is awaiting approval by congressmen on second reading.
Upon the transmittal of the third reading approval of the House measure to the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said the committee on public services could start discussing the temporary ABS-CBN franchise as early as next week and pass the committee report for plenary debates.
“Hopefully we can pass the measure the week after. We will work expeditiously to pass the measure up to ratification before the June 3 break,” Zubiri told reporters on Viber.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said “it can be done,” adding, “The key is for the HOR to act on the franchise as [soon as] possible.”
Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara said the Lower Chamber’s move to constitute a committee of the whole to tackle HB 6732 helped speed up deliberations on the proposed franchise for ABS-CBN.
Angara, however, said he can’t say for sure how long the two chambers of Congress will debate on the measure.
“But perhaps given this action, the Senate can also commence committee hearings. We have a few pending measures to grant the franchise,” he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he would “rather get the context and content [of the House bill] before I can comment.”
Meanwhile, other senators lauded the congressmen’s move to provide a remedy for the abrupt shutdown of ABS-CBN last week due to its expired franchise.
In an interview with ANC, Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate public services panel, said the provisional franchise will relieve the concerns of ABS-CBN employees.
“I am happy for the employees of ABS-CBN,” she said.
Poe earlier decided to inhibit from the Senate’s discussions on ABS-CBN’s legislative permit and designated Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian to lead in her stead.
Sen. Emmanual Pacquiao also welcomed the development.
“Magandang balita ito dahil muli na naman natin makakasama sa himpapawid ang ABS-CBN. Pinapasalamantan natin ang Mababang Kapulungan sapagka’t sa bandang huli ay pinagbigyan din nila ang ating kahilingan na mabigyan ng kahit pansamantalang prangkisa lang ang naturang broadcasting network,” Pacquaio said in a statement.
(This is good news because we will again have ABS-CBN on the airwaves. We thank the Lower Chamber because in the end, they gave in to our appeal to grant at least a temporary franchise to the broadcasting network.)
The House bill, which included House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano as one of its authors, stated that the grant of a provisional franchise to ABS-CBN would allow congressmen to focus first on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
It would also give the House of Representatives and the Senate enough time “to hear the issues being raised for and against the renewal, and assess, with complete impartiality and fairness, whether or not the network shall be granted a franchise for another 25 years.”
Bills seeking to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise have been languishing in the House of Representatives since 2016.
ABS-CBN’s 1995 franchise expired last May 4, prompting the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to issue a cease-and-desist order against the network.