Network warns of job losses by August

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ABS-CBN Corp. employees are at risk of retrenchment by August if the Congress fails to grant a franchise that will allow the network to resume operations, the top official of the network said on Tuesday.

“When we were taken off air on May 5th, we made a commitment to our employees given the difficult economic situation following COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), we made a commitment to them that we would not take away jobs for three months,” ABS-CBN President and Chief Executive Officer Carlo L. Katigbak said in a hearing, Tuesday.

But he said the network continues to incur losses after its May 5 shutdown, which may force it to eventually consider laying off its workers.

“We continue to lose a substantial amount of money every month and I’m afraid that if we cannot get back on air soon by August, we may already have to consider beginning a retrenchment process,” he said.

Mr. Katigbak was speaking before the Senate Committee on Public Services, which is tackling measures that will grant the network a 25-year franchise renewal and two other bills providing a provisional franchise until December 2020 and June 2022.

The hearing was conducted while the Senate awaits the transmittal of House Bill No. 6732, which in its last version grants ABS-CBN a provisional franchise until October.

“At this point in time our primary concern is to try and get back on air as quickly as possible. We leave it to Congress jointly to decide what’s the best way for us to legally return to the air,” Mr. Katigbak also said.

“It is critical from a financial stand point and from an employee welfare standpoint that we return, that we go back on air,” he added.

Former senate president Juan Ponce Enrile questioned the urgency in deliberating the ABS-CBN franchise as he is under the impression that there are enough radio stations in the country to report updates on the pandemic.

“The nooks and corners of this republic is rich, not by television but because of radio,” he said.

He also recommended that the Congress grant the National Telecommunications Commission the power to extend franchises, instead of granting a short-term franchise to the network.

Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel pointed out the urgency is in securing the employment of network’s workers, in light also of the crisis brought by the pandemic. Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri was concerned about the risk of ABS-CBN potentially losing its frequency.

“Coming up with a franchise renewal is a very difficult process already, a more difficult process is accessing frequency and that is why there is free tv frequency allotted these companies, if they lose the frequency they will start from scratch,” Mr. Zubiri said.

The chamber also established the constitutionality of the procedure after Senator Francis N. Tolentino raised it might be questioned by the Supreme Court, considering the House of Representatives has yet to transmit its version.

Senator Franklin M. Drilon, in response, said it has long been a practice to hold simultaneous hearings on measures that should emanate from the House.

“The rule is we can conduct hearings to the ABS-CBN franchise, but there can be no reports, submitted by the Senate as an institution,” Mr. Drilon said.

Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian, who presided over the hearing, clarified that the panel would not finalize the committee report until the House officially transmits its version.

“The preliminary hearings will not yield to a committee report. This is purely anticipatory, exploratory as well as clarificatory,” he said. — Charmaine A. Tadalan