House panel vows to tackle ABS-CBN franchise bills this month

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THE House Committee on Legislative Franchises will start hearing bills seeking the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise when session resumes this month.

Committee chairman  Palawan Representative  Franz Alvarez  made this announcement following the latest  statement of President Rodrigo Duterte urging ABS-CBN owners to “just sell” the company.

Alvarez said  Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano advised him to make the public hearing fair to all stakeholders.

While Alvarez assured  Congress will  be fair and objective in reviewing the application for the franchise renewal, he reminded the media network that the congressional grant allowing it to continue its operations  is a privilege, and not a right, under the law.

“The advice of Speaker Alan (Peter Cayetano) to us was to make sure that we would be always fair and impartial in reviewing the application of ABS-CBN, or the application of any other public utility,  for that matter. At the same time it is Congress’ duty to accept complaints and hear issue brought up in any contain or objection.

“But we should all be reminded that under the law, the grant of a franchise is not a right, but a privilege,” Alvarez said.

The committee will be  hearing all sides to find  out if ABS-CBN violated any provisions of its franchise.

The ABS-CBN franchise will expire this March.

Under Republic Act No. 3846, radio and television broadcast stations are required to seek a franchise from Congress before being allowed to operate.

Meanwhile,opposition leader Albay Representative  Edcel Lagman is leading some lawmakers in filing a resolution urging Alvarez’ committee  to report out without further delay for plenary action a consolidation of nine pending bills proposing the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise.

Lagman slammed the administration for delaying the franchise, saying it is “curtailment of press freedom.”

“President Rodrigo Duterte for repeatedly threatening to block the renewal of ABS-CBN Corporation’s franchise, which expires in March 2020, is ominously reminiscent of the unceremonious closure nationwide of 392 media outlets in 1972 at the outset of Martial Law, including ABS-CBN’s predecessor, ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation,” Lagman said.

The resolution will be filed on January 6 when work in Congress resumes.

However, the session will be opened on January 20 and Lagman is confident that several will co-author the resolution.

According to Lagman, the President must institute with the proper judicial or administrative forum his personal grievances against ABS-CBN, instead of imposing an extrajudicial killing of the freedom of the press.

He stressed that any deliberate and arbitrary denial of the extension of ABS-CBN’s franchise will render jobless 10,955 regular and non-regular employees as well as talent and project-based workers, and freeze P84.6 billion assets and investments.

The veteran solon said  “selling” ABS-CBN to an apparent Duterte crony is not an option.
 
“The freedom of the press is enshrined in the Bill of Rights and franchises as private bills exclusively emanate from the House of Representatives,” Lagman said.