By Ben Rosario
Notwithstanding Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go’s prodding, the leadership of the House of Representatives is standing pat on its decision not to “prioritize” bills proposing the renewal of the ABS-CBN legislative franchise which is due to expire next month.
In an ambush interview with reporters in Zambales Thursday, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the earliest time the House committee on legislative franchises can tackle the controversial issue will be in May, or two months past the period of the network’s existing congressional license.
Cayetano also expressed surprise at the decision of Sen. Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on public services, to call for a hearing on the broadcast network’s legislative franchise renewal application, pointing out that the senator has been evasive when it comes to constitutional amendment proposals.
“Huwag daw muna pag-usapan, pero they feel free to violate the Constitution,” Cayetano said, referring to the constitutional provisions that grant the House of Representatives the priority over the Senate in deciding on measures concerning legislative franchises.
The speaker said Senate hearings on legislative franchises will be useless if the Lower House rejects a pending application.
Go urges solons to discuss
On Wednesday, Go gave ABS-CBN management and employees a flicker of hope that their pleas for franchise renewal will be acted upon in the Lower House, after the senator aired his impatience over the issue and urged congressmen to discuss the legislative franchise proposals.
Known for his closeness to President Duterte, ABS-CBN’s top critic, Go also called on his fellow legislators to vote on the issue in accordance with their conscience.
House members have started to air opposite positions on the issue as the expiration of the network’s franchise draws near.
ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Go Yap said the network must show it observes its slogan “In the Servie of the Filipino People” by regularizing all its 11,000 employes.
Yap, chairman of the House committee on games and amusement, also challenged the broadcast giant’s management to distribute the back pay of 120 employees it allegedly “illegally terminated” in 2010.
On the other hand, veteran oppositionists Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and albay Rep. Edcel Lagman chided the House leadership for delaying the hearings, pointing out there is no cogent reason for the chamber’s claim that it is pre-occupied in acting on more important measures.
Zarate said that while the Duterte administration is rushing the passage of a bill that would allow the 100 percent foreign ownership of telecommunications and public transportation services in the country, its congressional allies are questioning ABS-CBN, a wholly-owned Filipino corporation, over its Philippine depository receipt (PDR).
Reacting to Go’s statement, Lagman said Duterte’s strong opposition against the ABS-CBN franchise appeared to have softened.
“The apparent softening of the President’s opposition to the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise would quash the smoldering indignation against the Duterte administration for violating the freedom of the press and free expression,” Lagman said.
Cayetano: Allow issue to simmer down
Yet, Cayetano has remained uncompromising in his position that the franchise measures need not be deliberated upon soon and instead, the existing franchise should be allowed to expire.
The House leader aired the belief that even if the franchise license is terminated, ABS-CBN will continue to operate. Thus, the network’s bid for renewal prior to expiration is not urgent.
According to him the best way to tackle the issue is to allow the controversy to simmer down, collate the pros and cons, then discuss them in May, or after President Duterte has delivered his state of the nation address in July.