Blame game at the House of Representatives as ABS-CBN franchise renewal bills remain pending

May 8, 2020 - 3:33 PM
Duterte with House Speaker Cayetano
President Rodrigo Duterte speaks with House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano before delivering his fourth State of the Nation Address at the Philippine Congress in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines July 22, 2019. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

There’s a blame game among some members of the House of Representatives amid pending bills to renew the franchise of broadcast giant ABS-CBN.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Friday broke his silence on the ABS-CBN shutdown and put the blame on the National Telecommunications Commission which issued the order to the stop the network’s operations while Rep. Lito Atienza (Buhay Partylist) addressed the fault to Cayetano. 

The country’s largest broadcasting firm went off the air on Tuesday evening, which was the first time since 1972, after NTC issued the cease-and-desist order because its franchise lapsed. ABS-CBN’s former franchise expired on May 4.  

Earlier this year, the House of Representatives and the Department of Justice asked the NTC to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority to operate beyond its franchise expiration date while renewal bills are still pending in the 18th Congress.  

The NTC eventually committed to this plan until Solicitor General Jose Calida, who previously filed a quo warranto petition to revoke ABS-CBN’s license, reportedly pressured the former of possible grant charges. 

After days of being silent on the network closure, Cayetano took to Facebook to accuse the NTC and Calida of being responsible for the media giant’s shutdown which cost the jobs of thousands of Filipino workers. 

“But you, LORD, know all their plots to kill me. Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let…

Posted by Alan Peter Cayetano on Thursday, May 7, 2020

In his statement, Cayetano also claimed that the bills to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise were among the bills the lawmakers prioritized before they went on break this 2020. 

Last Tuesday we were all ambushed by the NTC,” Cayetano said.  

Despite their assurance given under oath. Despite the legal opinion of the Department of Justice. Despite a resolution from the Senate, and several verbal and written assurances given to Congress – the NTC appears to have succumbed to pressure from the Solicitor General, and issued a cease-and-desist order to ABS-CBN,” he added 

He accused Calida of “unconstitutional meddling” and emphasized that only the Congress has the authority over broadcast franchises.  

“While this unnecessarily complicates the issue, it does not change the fact that the exclusive Constitutional authority to grant, deny, extend, revoke, or modify broadcast franchises; Including having the primary jurisdiction to make an initial determination whether an application for a legislative franchise should be granted or denied – still resides in Congress, and Congress alone,” Cayetano said.  

Cayetano’s colleague Rep. Franz Alvarez (Palawan; 1st District) likewise blamed Calida for the shutdown, noting that only Congress has the power over legislative broadcasting franchises.   

Atienza: It’s Cayetano’s fault 

In a phone interview with ANC reporter Karen Davila on May 6, Atienza alleged Cayetano stonewalled the renewal bills.  

“This is the failure of Congress to do its job. But I will say it squarely now: kasalanan ni Speaker Cayetano po ito,” Atienza said 

He also told the House speaker to work on the franchise renewal bills.

“This is Rep. Atienza speaking. Mahilig kang magsabi ng ‘’God bless all of us.’ Yes, but we should do our job. Mag-reflect. Tutal mahilig ka magdasal. Whether or not it is approved is immaterial. Pero ‘wag mong upuan,” he said. 

If his colleagues are willing to do so, Atienza said that ABS-CBN’s franchise can be swiftly deliberated and approved.

In one week pwede namin pagbotohan ‘to. Kahit pagdebatehan namin, gusto mo pagdebatehan pa naminMananalo ‘to,” he said.  

“ABS-CBN’s franchise can be renewed in one day,” he added.  

Franchise renewal bills and how the House of Representatives acted on them

In his statement, Cayetano maintained that as early as his first month as speaker of the House he “already put on record what the priorities of Congress would be, including when we would tackle the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN.”

He attributed the change in congressional calendar to the Taal Volcano eruption last January 12 and the onset of COVID-19 outbreak in February.

“And while we were on track with some of our priority legislation – including the swift passage of the 2020 budget, the Malasakit Center Act, and the creation of the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers, the eruption of Taal Volcano in January necessitated adjustments in the Congressional calendar,” Cayetano said.

“This was aggravated by the growing threat of COVID-19, which as early as February 14, I was already mentioning as another urgent matter that Congress would have to immediately deal with,” he added.

In June 2016, ABS-CBN said that it applied for a new franchise renewal in September 2014. It, however, said that it withdrew the application due to time constraints.

It was in November 2016 when the first measure that seeks for a fresh 25-year franchise was filed by Rep. Micaela Violago (Nueva Ecija, 2nd District.) Two bills were again filed in the 17th Congress in 2018. 

Nine more measures about the renewal were introduced to the 18th Congress in 2019. The latest bill filed prior to ABS-CBN shutdown was last January 6.  

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano's alleged coup attempt
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano via Facebook

Cayetano, meanwhile, was appointed to the speakership role in July 2019, a term he was supposed to share with Rep. Lord Allan Velasco (Marinduque).

Since Cayetano started his terma total of ten measures seeking to extend or renew ABS-CBN’s license have already been filed in Congress. 

Last December, several groups urged the lower House to act on the franchise renewal bills. However, Alvarez told reporters that the Congress can no longer deliberate on them before they adjourn for the Christmas break.    

Cayetano also confirmed this, adding that the lower chamber would be fair on tackling the bills.

Clamor to hasten the network’s franchise renewal came after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to close down ABS-CBN againHe had been vocal in opposing the network’s continued operations since 2017 after two allegations—failure to air his advertisements during the 2016 presidential campaign and being too critical on its reports on his administration and policies.

Kobe Bryant tribute 

While Cayetano claimed that the House of Representatives included the network’s franchise renewal in its priorities. He also said in February that the bills are “not that urgent.”

“It’s important but the urgency is not there because hindi sila magko-close (they won’t be closed down). And we only have six session days,” the solon was quoted as saying on February 27.

In January and February, the House of Representatives also hosted two tribute exhibits for late NBA player Kobe Bryant who passed away in a helicopter crash.

Cayetano himself unveiled an exhibit of Bryant’s paraphernalia at the speaker’s entrance of the House of Representatives last January 29.

READ: House of Representatives hosts Kobe Bryant exhibit

The House speaker relaunched the exhibit and displayed his private collection at the Batasan Plenary Hallway, Quezon City on February 24.

This was recalled by online users on social media who criticized Cayetano for prioritizing tribute for Bryant.

The House was finally able to discuss the media firm’s continued operations in March,. However, Cayetano’s rivalry with Velasco in the speakership role became the highlight of the meeting instead of the proposed renewal bills.  

Cayetano alleged that Velasco’s camp was orchestrating a coup attempt to remove him from his position.  

Atienza countered this and said that the former was the one orchestrating drama.  

Before Congress went on break, Congress and the DOJ made formal requests to NTC, which the commission initially committed to.  —With reports from Rosette Adel