By Ellson Quismorio
Deputy Majority Leader, Camiguin lone district Rep. Xavier Jesus “XJ” Romualdo on Friday disagreed with some of his colleagues’ claims that the joint House committee hearings on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal have been “unfair.”
Romualdo says the joint panel–which has already carried out seven hearings on the matter–has managed to be “exhaustive” in its proceedings and cover all bases.
“I think the hearings have definitely been fair,” said Romualdo, a member of the powerful Rules Committee.
“All issues, points, and arguments against and for the franchise have been or are being brought up and exhaustively discussed, those who are for and against the franchise are afforded full opportunities to speak, and the proceedings are fully open to the public,” he said of the hearings, which are live streamed on the House of Representatives’ Facebook page.
The House has been tackling the bills seeking the renewal of the television and radio giant’s operating franchise even if it is on break. The Lower Chamber adjourned sine die last June 5 and won’t have sessions again until President Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) in late July.
The continued hearings were meant to reflect on the urgency of the case of the ABS-CBN, which voluntarily went off the air last May 5, a day after its previous 25-year franchise expired.
But aside from its proposed new franchise, the alleged violations of the Lopez-owned network to the 1987 Constitution and its erstwhile franchise are also being discussed. In fact, these issues have been front and center of the discussions.
“The ABS-CBN franchise is a highly charged issue and the hearings could easily become rowdy and disorderly but the House leadership has steered and managed the proceedings outstandingly,” Romualdo said.
So far, only one outburst has taken place during the joint proceedings–that of BUHAY Party-List Rep. Lito Atienza’s last Wednesday. Atienza, who participated in the hearing via Zoom, threw a fit and claimed that the presiding officers always gave the anti-ABS-CBN solons freedom to talk while the pro-ABS-CBN solons like him usually get interrupted during their interpellations of resource persons.
The BUHAY lawmaker is the father of ABS-CBN talent, “Kuya” Kim Atienza and a former mayor of Manila.
In a virtual press conference the next day, Deputy Minority Leader Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Zarate said he understood Rep. Atienza’s sentiments and afterwards called out the “presiding officers” of the hearings for their alleged bias.
“Hindi masyadong nabibigyan ng proper control yung discussion sa mga presiding [officers] especially yung mga napre-preside din have their own bias(es) also. (The presiding officers haven’t been able to properly control the discussions especially since they have their biases also),” said Zarate, one of the 14 congressmen who filed bills seeking to renew the network’s expired franchise.
Palawan 1st district Rep. Franz Alvarez of the Legislative Franchises panel and Bulacan 1st district Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado of the Good Government serve as co-chairmen of the joint panel. It was Alvarez who responded to Atienza during the hearing Wednesday and said he “took exception” to the latter’s claim that the proceedings have been one-sided.
“Sa simula’t sapul naman, ang ginagawa dito sa committee ay binabalanse naman. Patas naman po. Lahat naman may chance magsalita (From the very start, the joint committee has been performing a balancing act. It’s been fair. Every has had a chance to speak),” he said.
Romualdo thinks the co-chairmen deserve praise for their handling of the hearings. “The proceedings have been exactly how Speaker [Alan Peter] Cayetano told us it’ll be–fair, impartial, comprehensive, and thorough–and you have to give credit to the Speaker, the leadership, and the two committee chairmen, Chicoy Alvarez and Jonathan Sy-Alvarado.”
Other authors of the franchise renewal bills declined to comment when asked about the fairness of the ongoing hearings.