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Cayetano says ABS-CBN franchise bill not urgent

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House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the several bills that seek to renew the legislative franchise of broadcast network ABS-CBN at the House of Representatives are not urgent.

“It’s important but the urgency is not there because hindi sila magko-close (they won’t be closed down). And we only have six session days,” Cayetano was quoted as saying.

Cayetano said while there are pressures for the lower chamber to discuss the network’s franchise bills, conducting a hearing would do “more harm than good”, noting that the Congress’ Lenten break would cut the deliberations short.

“Siyempre sa hearing papayagan natin ang ABS management mag-opening statement. That will take up 20 percent of the hearing. Then next, ano ba ang logical? ‘Yung mga nag-o-object, so assuming na sampu ang mag-o-object o kahit lima lang, baka dalawa o tatlo lang ang marinig namin then we’ll stop the hearing then magbe-break kami (During the hearing we would allow the ABS-CBN management to deliver an opening statement. That will take up 20 percent of the hearing. Then next, what is logical? As for those who will object, probably around 10 or five, we would only hear two to three then we’ll stop the hearing then we will go on a break),” Cayetano said.

“Won’t that be unfair sa (to) ABS-CBN? So the whole break for the next five, six weeks, ang news yung nag-object lang, ni hindi sila makasagot (the news would only be about those who objected, and they can’t even give a proper response),” he added.

Cayetano vowed to conduct fair and serious discussions relating to ABS-CBN's franchise.

“What we’re after here is a fair hearing and serious discussion on the role of media in our democracy, and how we can put rules and regulations that are fair to everyone,” he said.

President Duterte has ensured that he would keep a “healthy distance” from issues surrounding the franchise renewal bid of ABS-CBN.

“I tell you, I am not going to interfere. Wala talaga ako (I will not have a hand),” Duterte said.

Duterte said the “critical move” is now up to the House of Representatives because it has yet to deliberate first on the pending franchise bills.

House Committee on Legislative Franchise chair Franz Alvarez has sent a letter to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) enjoining the agency to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority to continue its operations effective May 4, 2020, until such time that the Congress has made a decision on the network’s application.

Alvarez and Cayetano informed the NTC that the House Committee on Legislative Franchises has started its preliminary proceedings on ABS-CBN's application for the renewal of its franchise.

They noted that the panel has instructed all interested parties to submit their position papers for or against franchise renewal within 60 days from Feb 24, 2020.

The letter underscored that the House of Representatives has the exclusive original jurisdiction and authority to act on franchise applications.

ABS-CBN’s franchise expires on May 4 this year, in case Congress and Duterte do not give consent for the local media giant to proceed with its broadcast operations.

ABS-CBN’s congressional franchise was granted on Mar. 30, 1995, but only took effect 15 days after its publication -- Apr. 19, 1995 -- in newspapers.

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