A LEGISLATOR plans to file a resolution directing the House Committee on Legislative Franchises to “report without delay” for plenary action a consolidation of nine bills seeking the renewal of ABS-CBN Corp.’s franchise.
Rep. Edcel C. Lagman of the first district of Albay said in a press release on Thursday that he would file a resolution on Jan. 6, when the lower chamber resumes work, to push the committee to act on the media company’s franchise.
He said President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s “blatant curtailment of press freedom” for repeatedly threatening to block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, which expires in March 2020, is “ominously reminiscent of the unceremonious closure nationwide of 392 media outlets” at the outset of martial law in September 1972, including the company’s predecessor, ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp.
The lawmaker said instead of imposing “an extrajudicial killing of the freedom of the press,” the President should go to the proper judicial or administrative forum on his “personal grievances” against ABS-CBN.
“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,” Mr. Lagman said.
The Albay representative also called out his fellow House members, particularly the Committee on Legislative Franchises, “to act independently in exercising exclusive congressional jurisdiction on the grant of franchises, and must not be cowed by the President’s wanton rantings.”
As soon as session resumes on Jan. 20, many members of the chamber are expected to co-author Mr. Lagman’s resolution.
Meanwhile, Palawan Rep. Franz E. Alvarez, who chairs the committee, gave his assurance that the panel would be “fair and objective” in reviewing ABS-CBN’s application for franchise renewal. But he said the congressional grant is a “privilege and not a right” under the law.
“The advice of Speaker Alan [Peter S. 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(s) brought up in any contain or objection,” Mr. Alvarez said.
“This is why we have to hear all sides, and find out if ABS-CBN violated the provisions of its franchise,” he added.
He also said the Supreme Court had stated that the grant of a franchise is “merely a privilege emanating from the sovereign power of the State and owing its existence to a grant, is subject to regulation by the State itself by virtue of police power through administrative agencies.”
“Does the President and many others who have made statements against ABS-CBN’s election coverage and election ad placement system, have a legitimate grievance against ABS-CBN? Did ABS-CBN violate the provisions of its franchise? Can ABS-CBN credibly defend its privilege of being granted a renewal of its franchise? These are just some of the questions that our committee will seek to answer when we conduct hearings on the matter once Congress resumes session three weeks from now,” Mr. Alvarez said. — Genshen L. Espedido