Senate bill seeking provisional franchise for ABS-CBN until June 2022 filed

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Some 13 senators filed a bill on Monday seeking to grant ABS-CBN Corporation a provisional franchise effective until the end of June 2022.

Senate Bill No. 1521 aims to amend Republic Act No. 7966 which provides for the 25-year franchise of ABS-CBN that lapsed on May 4.

According to the Senate, a provisional franchise shall be granted to ABS-CBN that will allow it to “construct, install, operate, and maintain television and radio broadcasting stations in the Philippines” until June 30, 2022.

The measure seeking to allow the Philippines’ largest media network to resume its broadcast operations is ” an attempt to save all the thousands of direct and indirect jobs dependent on ABS-CBN in a time of great unease and economic contraction,” the senators said in the bill’s explanatory note.

Under Senate Bill No. 1521, the company will be allowed to operate until June 30, 2022 “to give Congress further time to deliberate on ABS-CBN’s franchise.”

Once enacted, the bill shall have a retroactive effect from May 3, 2020 and shall be in full force until a new franchise has been granted to ABS-CBN, it said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senators Richard Gordon, Lito Lapid, Sherwin Gatchalian, Joel Villanueva, Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Bong Revilla, Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan, and Manny Pacquiao introduced the proposed law.

Also on Monday, the Senate adopted a simple resolution urging the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to reconsider the cease and desist order it issued against ABS-CBN.

ABS-CBN network went off-air since Tuesday night in compliance with the said order.

It also asked the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order against the said directive of the NTC.

Meanwhile,  Cagayan De Oro City Representative Rufus Rodriguez said that Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano was “sincere” and acted in “good faith” when he asked the National Telecommunications Commission to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority to operate after the expiration of its franchise on May 4.

In a statement, Rodriguez defended Cayetano from critics who blamed him for the non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise.

He said that Cayetano asked the NTC to issue a provisional authority as the chamber no longer had enough time to tackle the ABS-CBN franchise renewal bills before the Lenten congressional break in March.

But instead of granting a provisional authority, the NTC issued a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN’s broadcast operations.

“It turned out we could not rely on the NTC, which is part of the executive branch. In case of conflict between the executive and legislative branches, it is but natural for NTC to follow its executive bosses,” said Rodriguez.

“So now we have to do our job. Let us consider my proposed joint resolution of Congress giving a provisional franchise to ABS-CBN up to June 30, 2022, when the life of the present 18th Congress expires. We should also consider my bill granting the network a new 25-year franchise,” he added.

Rodriguez said that a joint resolution or a bill that Congress would approve and would be signed by  President Rodrigo Duterte was “a law NTC cannot ignore and has to obey,” he said.

The lawmaker also opposed calls for an inquiry into why previous Congresses failed to act on the ABS-CBN franchise renewal, and why the NTC and Solicitor General Jose Calida supposedly acted as they did on the issue.

“Let’s forget blame-throwing and fault-finding. It’s just a waste of time. They have their own reasons for their decisions. Let’s move forward by deciding whether we give the network a franchise or not,” he said.

“The solution really is to give it a franchise, whether it is provisional up to 2022 or for 25 years,” he added.

Buhay party-list Representative Lito Atienza had blamed the House of Representatives and Cayetano for the shut down in ABS-CBN’s broadcast operations.

Atienza said that had the chamber immediately taken up the matter, the ABS-CBN’s franchise could have been approved and it would not have gone off the air.

Albay Representative Edcel Lagman also said that “the closure of the network giant… could have been averted by the timely congressional renewal of its franchise.”

As of Monday, the House had yet to announce a scheduled hearing on the matter./Stacy Ang

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