There will be no new legislative franchise for network giant ABS-CBN when its existing congressional license expires next month.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano disclosed Friday that the House committee on legislative franchises will wait for the right timing to hear the pros and cons of the nine pending ABS-CBN broadcast network bills and two other franchise renewals of its sister companies.
“This is not a race against time, but a race towards justice and democracy,” Cayetano said as he aired hopes to schedule the franchise hearings in May, two months after the expiration of the Kapamilya network’s existing broadcast license.
In an ambush interview at the sidelines of the Paranaque City mass wedding ceremonies on Friday, Cayetano said he supports the contention of Senate president Vicente Sotto III that ABS-CBN may continue to operate even without a legislative franchise until the adjournment of Congress session in 2022.
He noted that the franchise renewal applications were previously filed during the 16th Congress when Benigno Aquino III was president. Another batch of bills was submitted in the 17th Congress, but in both instances the Lower House did not act on them.
“Hindi ito race. Hindi ito pabilisan. Kailangan po natin ng lamig ng ulo,” he said. (This is not a race. This is not about hurrying up. This calls for cool heads.)
Chaired by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, the legislative franchise panel has continued to dodge calls made by various schools of journalism and reporters organizations for the scheduling of the hearings.
Also inviting protests from various groups was the move of the Office of the Solicitor General to file a petition for quo warranto before the Supreme Court in a bid to stop ABS-CBN from further operating its broadcast stations.
However, Cayetano said the noise generated by the pro- and anti-ABS-CBN groups do not address the controversy, and added that the Lower House will carry out its function of re-assessing the ABS-CBN bid for another 25 years of broadcast operation.
The House leader agreed that press freedom is one issue that will inevitably be raised over the congressional franchise debates.
“Pero question: ‘pag hindi ba binigay ang prangkisa, patay na press freedom? Hindi. Kaya nga may hearing eh. Bakit may prangkisa pa?” the Taguig-Pateros solon said. (Here’s a question: will press freedom die if the franchise is not granted? No. That’s why there are hearings. Why is there still a franchise?)
Cayetano said ABS-CBN has been accused of violating the Fair Elections Law which requires the media to ensure utmost fairness in its reporting of the campaign and elections.
According to him the complaints were raised during the presidential elections of 2010 and 2016.
In the 2016 polls, then-presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte accused the network of being biased against him. He claimed the network did not air his campaign propaganda despite accepting payment from his campaign headquarterss.
Asked when the House leadership plans to schedule the hearings, Cayetano replied that it “definitely” will be set before March 2022 when Congress adjourns.
“Possibly in May, if we have enough time and we have cooler heads and with all the issues. Worst case, after SONA. But, in the meantime, there should not be any reason to hamper or hassle not only the operations of ABS, but also on their news,” Cayetano explained.
“We will get to it in due time. And when we do, I have already guaranteed that it will be impartial and fair.”
In his interview, he emphasized the need to hold ABS-CBN network accountable for some perceived violations but expressed his concern that the hearing on this controversial issue might “suck all the energy of the 18th Congress.”