By Filane Mikee Cervantes
MANILA — A party-list lawmaker on Tuesday urged Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to direct the House Committee on Legislative Franchises to deliberate on the bills seeking to extend the franchise of broadcasting firm ABS-CBN for another 25 years.
Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said the last time the panel, chaired by Palawan (1st District) Rep. Franz Alvarez, held a meeting was on Nov. 13, 2019.
“Congress and all its committees are supposed to be deliberative bodies. But we cannot consider and debate on a measure if the chairperson of the committee won’t even call a meeting,” Atienza said.
“We’ve counted 10 separate bills — authored by 15 House members in all — calling for the extension of ABS-CBN’s franchise. Many of these measures have been pending for months. The chairperson cannot just ignore these bills put forth by his colleagues,” he added.
Atienza stressed that Congress has the sole power to grant and repeal legislative franchises.
The Office of the Solicitor General on Monday filed a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court seeking to forfeit the legislative franchise of the network.
On Tuesday, the high court ordered the broadcasting giant to comment on the quo warranto suit filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida.
Laguna Rep. Sol Aragones, meanwhile, said the closure of the network would be detrimental to the interests of its workers and viewers alike.
Aragones, a former ABS-CBN reporter, reminded her colleagues that over 11,000 employees would lose their livelihoods if the network ceases operations.
“At present, ABS-CBN employs over 11,000 employees and talents nationwide as well as those stationed abroad in areas like North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia,” Aragones said.
“These are Filipinos who work daily to entertain our countrymen, who toil tirelessly to bring them news and information that matters, and who help improve lives with public service programs and projects — and their voices deserve to be heard,” she added.
According to Aragones, many employees of the network have approached her and several other legislators to appeal for the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise.
“They belong to an industry that cannot realistically absorb 11,000 unemployed individuals. If the ABS-CBN franchise is allowed to expire at the end of March, 11,000 people will be getting their last paychecks and will be unable to provide for their families,” she said.
Aside from employees of the network, Aragones said ABS-CBN has millions of viewers and listeners that depend on the network for news and entertainment.
She cited that Channel 2 and TV Plus combined have 72.3 million viewers, with an additional 3.5 million viewers from abroad. Its FM and AM radio networks, on the other hand, attract 11.2 million listeners a day.
“This issue involves not just one network, but the lives of many. Naniniwala pa din ako at kumakapit sa pag-asa na mare-renew pa din ang franchise ng ABS-CBN (I still believe and hold on to the hope that ABS-CBN’s franchise will be renewed),” she said.
Calida said ABS-CBN had been hiding behind an “elaborately crafted corporate veil”, and alleged that it was allowing foreign investors to take part in the ownership of a Philippine mass media entity by issuing Philippine Deposit Receipts (PDRs) through ABS-CBN Holdings Corp., which is a violation of the 1987 Constitution.
Under the 1987 Constitution, mass media ownership is limited to Filipinos.
“This simply means that mass media companies operating in the Philippines must be 100 percent Filipino-owned because they play an integral role in the nation’s economic, political, and socio-political landscape,” Calida said.
Calida added the broadcasting firm “abused” the privilege granted by the State when it launched and operated a pay-per-view channel in ABS-CBN TV Plus, the KBO Channel, without prior approval or permission from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).
“While it is true that broadcasting is a business, the welfare of the people must not be sacrificed in the pursuit of profit,” Calida said.
Calida said ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc. resorted to an “ingenious corporate layering scheme” in order to transfer its franchise without the necessary congressional approval. (PNA)