Cayetano: ABS-CBN can continue operating if…

MANILA, Philippines — Media giant ABS-CBN may continue broadcasting if the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) grants it a provisional authority to operate after its franchise expires on March 30, according to Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

The prospect that the broadcaster will still be able to continue its operations is the reason the members of the House of Representatives believe it was “not that urgent” to tackle the 10 bills to renew the network’s franchise, he said on Friday.

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He suggested that the House franchise panel submits to the NTC a document supporting the provisional license for ABS-CBN.

“NTC listens,” Cayetano said. “So, if the committee has to come up with something official, I think there’s a consensus that while we’re discussing the issues, there’s no reason to shut it down.”

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“Don’t get me wrong,” he added. “The franchise of ABS-CBN is extremely important not only because they have 11,000 employees, but also to our country and democracy. But it’s not that urgent. Why? Because they can operate until March 2022 anyway.”

No date has been set on when the franchise committee was to meet to prepare the document expressing support for the network’s provisional license, as suggested by Cayetano.

The House only has until March 11 to conduct business before it goes into a recess.

There was no immediate comment from the NTC and ABS-CBN at press time.

Duterte ire, Calida move

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly castigated ABS-CBN over perceived slights, such as running a negative advertisement against him during the 2016 presidential campaign and supposedly refusing to air his own paid ad.

He has said he would block the renewal of the network’s franchise and in late December, he told ABS-CBN’s owners to just sell it.

The controversy over the broadcaster’s future heightened this week after Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition in the Supreme Court to revoke ABS-CBN’s license, accusing the network of violating the terms of its franchise and the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership of a Filipino media entity.

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Several House lawmakers assailed Calida’s Feb. 10 petition, saying it encroached on Congress’ exclusive power to grant or withhold a franchise.

May be tackled in May

Cayetano, who has said he has his own gripes against ABS-CBN, said it would be better to discuss the franchise issue when emotions had calmed down.

“There has to be some way that we can soberly and very reasonably discuss these issues with emotions, but not with rhetoric,” he said.

Cayetano said the House panel might begin discussions on the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise not earlier than the middle of the year—well after it shall have lapsed.

“Possibly, in May, if we have enough time and we have cooler heads … Worst case, after SONA (State of the Nation Address)” in July, he told a news conference.

Cayetano said the franchises committee chaired by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez would table the bills for discussion only “when the time comes, but definitely before March 2022.”

Alvarez’ panel had not calendared for discussion any of the bills extending the franchise.

The Palawan representative headed the same panel in the 17th Congress and sidelined the measure as well.

QC mayor backs renewal

While Malacañang has distanced itself from Calida’s petition, journalists and rights groups said Duterte’s personal vendetta appears to fuel the move.

Former Commission on Human Rights chair Etta Rosales on Friday expressed alarm over the “audacity” of the Duterte administration to deny granting a franchise renewal to ABS-CBN.

“Perhaps, the President—after two and a half years—should think less of himself, and view the network’s mandate from the perspective of its citizens,” Rosales said.

Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte on Friday said she supports the renewal of the network’s franchise.

“By tradition, Quezon City is also known as a bastion of freedom, knowledge, and diversity, and the presence of multiple media networks in QC embodies these values,” she said.

Belmonte said ABS-CBN was one of the city’s top taxpayers and employed thousands of city residents “whose families would suffer should its legislative franchise not be renewed.”

She said the media giant also supported many of the city’s programs and projects, including the its advocacy to educate the youth by building the Eugenio Lopez Sr. Senior High School for Media Arts and protecting children through the Bantay Bata 163 Children’s Village.

The city also partnered with the late Gina Lopez of ABS-CBN Foundation and Bantay Kalikasan in cleaning of its waterways and protecting La Mesa Ecopark, Belmonte said. —WITH A REPORT FROM MARIEJO S. RAMOS AND JHESSET O. ENANO

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