Zubiri pushes for 1-yr provisional franchise for ABS-CBN | Inquirer News

Zubiri pushes for 1-yr provisional franchise for ABS-CBN

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri on Thursday suggested that Congress pass a one-year provisional franchise for ABS-CBN rather than the five-month temporary authority approved by the House of Representatives.

Zubiri said the Senate could seek a compromise with the House on this matter, noting that the next five months may not be enough time for Congress to tackle the network’s 25-year franchise renewal because lawmakers would be busy with the COVID-19 pandemic, tax reform, the budget and typhoon season.

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“We will ask our colleagues in Congress if they can make it at least no less than a year provisional franchise so we could have enough time to discuss or fix the issues of ABS-CBN,” Zubiri told reporters.

He said he and 12 other senators filed a bill early this week giving ABS-CBN a provisional franchise until June 30, 2022. But he personally believes one year was enough time to settle all issues related the proposed franchise.

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House Bill No. 6732 was approved on second reading on Wednesday. It gives the network a provisional franchise until Oct. 31, 2020.

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) ordered ABS-CBN to “cease and desist” operations on May 5. The network’s ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC), which is operating on a different franchise, continues to operate.

The Senate’s options are to adopt the House version or propose amendments extending the provisional franchise to at least 12 months, but that would require negotiations with the House, Zubiri noted.

The plan was still to ratify a provisional franchise bill before Congress adjourns on June 3, he said.

Drilon: Not enough time

Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the Senate might not have time to amend the House version, as any disagreement could cause delay.

“We are practically given no choice but to approve the version of the (House) because of the danger that the difference in version may require a [bicameral conference] and may result in the bicam not coming up with the recommendation by June 3 of this year,” he said in an interview with ANC.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, who will chair the franchise hearings, said he planned to start them next week.

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He said he expected speedy discussions since issues concerning the network were already tackled in an earlier hearing.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III cautioned the Senate committee in making sure that there would be no loopholes that could be “a reason to attack it” and delay the measure.

Drilon noted presidential spokesperson Harry Roque’s statement that President Duterte would have no reason to veto the provisional franchise bill if it had no “constitutional infirmities.”

“Just to flag it that number one, do not hope that the President will sign it on the same time that it gets to him,” he said.

At the House, the swift passage of HB 6732 was welcomed by most lawmakers, including members of the opposition, who said that it proved that Congress could pass a measure in a snap at the behest of the Speaker.

“Depending on the will and predisposition of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, a bill can be approved with inordinate alacrity or can languish in virtual perpetuity,” Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said in a statement.

He urged Congress to also tackle the 12 other ABS-CBN franchise bills in in the same “blitzkrieg fashion.”

Critic now lauds Alan

Buhay Rep. Jose “Lito” Atienza, who earlier blamed Cayetano for the network’s closure, lauded him for accepting responsibility for the shutdown.

“It was an admission that the real responsibility lay on his shoulders, and he decided to act on it. I thank him for that; I even congratulate him for that because he just solved a growing national problem,” Atienza said in a phone interview.

Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said deliberations on pending bills granting the network a 25-year license “should start soon.”

“This will give ABS-CBN time and the venue to explain itself on accusations that it allegedly violated the terms and conditions of its expired franchise, labor laws and even the Constitution,” he said.

For party-list group Bayan Muna, a provisional franchise for a few months is better than no franchise as it will allow the reopening of ABS-CBN and let its 11,000 workers resume earning their livelihood.

“However, this should not be used to pressure ABS-CBN to kowtow to President Duterte and his candidates in 2022, in exchange for its franchise because this quid pro quo imposition violates press freedom,” said Bayan Muna chair Neri Colmenares.

In response to the House franchise committee’s order to explain why it should not be cited for contempt, the NTC apologized to Congress and the panel, saying that it had decided to issue the closure order after it “rigorously sifted” through various legal arguments and opinions of “legal luminaries.”

In a letter, it also said it had “considered” a “comment” by Solicitor General Jose Calida, which warned that the granting the network a provisional authority would be illegal.

“In the end, NTC’s collective assessment was that the Constitution, the laws and jurisprudence provided insurmountable obstacles to the issuance of the (provisional authority), notwithstanding equitable considerations,” the NTC officials said.

It did not refer to Calida’s threat to file graft charges against the commissioners if they had issued the temporary permit.

“Nonetheless, we regret for failing to notify you, the Honorable Speaker, and the House of Representatives, and in particular the chairperson and members of the committee on legislative franchise, our decision to issue a CDO (cease and desist order) against ABS-CBN following the expiration of its franchise last May 4, 2020,” the commissioners said.

The three-page letter dated May 12 was signed by NTC chief Gamaliel Cordoba and commissioners Edgardo Cabarios and Delilah Deles, as well as its legal branch head Ella Blanca Lopez.

Cayetano had vowed there would be a “reckoning” with the NTC for reneging on its March 10 promise to issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN and Calida for his “unconstitutional meddling” in the authority of Congress to decide on the broadcast franchise.

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TAGS: ABS-CBN, franchise, House, Juan Miguel Zubiri, network, provisional franchise, Senate, shutdown
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