House panel to proceed 'cautiously' on ABS-CBN franchise renewal

By Filane Mikee Cervantes

February 12, 2020, 7:13 pm

MANILA -- The House Committee on Legislative Franchises on Wednesday said it would proceed “steadily, but cautiously” in discussing the franchise renewal of broadcasting giant ABS-CBN. 

Isabela Representative Tonypet Albano, committee vice-chair, said given the “highly charged atmosphere” regarding the network’s renewal, the panel will stand by its processes and refuse to be “coerced into making hasty decisions for political mileage”. 

"This is especially relevant since I and Senate President Sotto have already explained, ABS-CBN may actually legally continue to operate under its existing franchise until that is formally terminated, or absent this, until the end of the 18th Congress,” Albano said.  

 “At this time, we urge the network to respond to the issues raised by the Solicitor General as it is highly probable that those same concerns would be tackled in our hearings,” Albano added. 

Solicitor General Jose Calida filed on Monday before the Supreme Court (SC) a quo warranto petition seeking the forfeiture of the legislative franchises of ABS-CBN Corp. and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence Inc. 

On Tuesday, the high court ordered the media giant to comment on the quo warranto suit filed by Calida. 

Albano said ABS-CBN should follow the advice of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to do some “soul-searching”, stressing that this might be the most opportune time for the firm to try and understand why public sentiment against the station is running high. 

 “As a government franchisee, the network’s continued operation relies heavily on its ability to serve the public good. As it stands now, there are serious concerns being raised against ABSCBN by various sectors - not just by the President and the Speaker - as to its business practices and its delivery of information to the public,” Albano said.  

Cayetano assured that Congress will fulfill its constitutional mandate to review and decide on the franchise issue, despite the Office of Solicitor General’s pending action before the Supreme Court. 

"This constitutional duty of Congress does not preclude other branches of government to do as it sees fit with regard to this matter. But neither should it divest Congress of its powers nor will their actions stop us from doing what we must do, " Cayetano said.  

Cayetano also affirmed the chamber’s commitment to conduct an impartial hearing “where those who are against or in favor of the renewal may make their case.” He noted that this is consistent with the President’s stand on the protection of the freedom of expression. 

As to the timetable for the hearings, Cayetano said that while “there are certain interests who want to rush this process, we stand by the leadership of the 18th Congress and The Committee in Legislative Franchises on how to prioritize urgent and important legislation.” 

“We also commit that the 18th Congress shall study this issue from all aspects in order to protect the interest of the public,” he said. (PNA)