Alternative uses for ABS-CBN radio, TV frequencies proposed

LRay Villafuerte
Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte

DEPUTY Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte has filed a  resolution recommending the temporary use by the government of ABS-CBN's former television and radio frequencies as a means to provide alternative distance learning modalities to students this coming schoolyear to help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the country's education system.

In filing House Resolution (HR) No. 1044, Villafuerte said that "exhausting all possible delivery modes such as the use of untapped television and radio frequencies as those vacated by ABS-CBN is important in keeping students engaged" amid the learning crisis sweeping across the globe as a result of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.

"The unused frequencies may also be used for information on COVID-19 prevention and control, risk reduction and preparedness," he said. Villafuerte noted that the Philippines is among the countries experiencing a "learning crisis" brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Citing a World Bank (WB) report, Villafuerte said the pandemic  "is causing more than 1.6 billion children and youth to be out of school in 161 countries or around 80 percent of the world's students." "Inequality and inaccessibility of opportunities such as those pertaining to internet connectivity and possession of a laptop pose a variety of challenges for teachers and learners," he noted.

Thus, "the reduction in losses in learning require creativity in remote learning strategies," such as tapping radio and TV as alternative media for teaching purposes, Villafuerte said.

The Department of Education (DepEd) is currently working to transition the modality of teaching from the conventional “face-to-face” learning to blended learning, which is a combination of online distance learning and in-person delivery of learning materials to the homes of the learners to ensure that students are able to continue their education even amid the pandemic.

Villafuerte said the former frequencies used by ABS-CBN will be especially useful in areas not yet reached by digital infrastructure, such as some of the communities in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARRM).

Earlier, Villafuerte--one of the 70 legislators who had voted in the House committee on legislative franchises to deny ABS-CBN's franchise renewal--noted that the decision of the House committee on legislative franchises not to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN was a "tough and difficult"  one.

He noted that the decision was reached after exhaustive discussions in 13 panel hearings on a myriad of issues, including tax evasion, use of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) in violation of the constitutional ban on foreign ownership of certain businesses, labor violations, political bias in past electoral campaigns, the use of a dummy corporation for broadcasting purposes and the US citizenship of its chairman emeritus Eugenio Gabriel Lopez III.

"Critics of the committee decision are mistakenly praising the 11 who had voted for the renewal of the franchise and pillorying the 70 who had been brave enough to stand by their conviction in voting against the renewal of the franchise on the strength of the findings of the Committee Report on ABS-CBN's array of violations as a TV network," Villafuerte said.

"The 70 legislators who voted against renewal had arrived at a difficult decision in upholding the Committee Report, as it was convenient and popular to just vote for renewal, given the sustained media offensive of the TV network and its allies in the media--along with members of the political opposition who had shrewdly capitalized on this issue to score pogi points in the press by foisting phony issues upon the public at the expense of President Duterte." he added.

For an informed discussion of the ABS-CBN issue, Villafuerte suggested that critics first read the Committee Report in its entirety "before shooting from the hip--as they have been wont to do in their incessant attacks against the Duterte administration and the House leadership."