House won’t tackle ABS-CBN franchise renewal bill this year

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 4) — The House of Representatives will not act on bills seeking to renew the franchise of major television network ABS-CBN until the year ends, a lawmaker said Wednesday.

House Committee on Legislative Franchises Chairman Franz Alvarez told CNN Philippines on Wednesday that his panel has no scheduled hearings until Congress adjourns for the Christmas break on December 20.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said they can tackle the bills early next year.

"Alam din ito ng management ng ABS-CBN na uunahin namin ang budget at tsaka mga revenue bills, pero we have more than enough time to tackle it in January, February dahil March pa naman ‘yung expiration ng franchise," he said.

[Translation: ABS-CBN's management knows that we will prioritize the budget and revenue bills, but we have more than enough time to tackle it in January and February because their franchise will only expire in March.]

But he could not give an assurance of a fresh franchise for the major TV network.

"Depende sa kalalabasan ng hearing [It depends on what comes out of the hearing.] I cannot preempt the committee or the issues that will be taken," he said.

All franchise bills must first be approved by the House before they go to the Senate. ABS-CBN's franchise will expire on March 30, 2020 unless Congress and the President approve a new one. Five bills have been filed to extend the franchise for another 25 years.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said he will personally make sure the TV network will be out of business when its license to operate expires.

"Ang inyong franchise mag-end next year [Your franchise will end next year]. If you are expecting na ma-renew 'yan [a renewal], I'm sorry. You're out. I will see to it that you're out," said Duterte in a speech.

The President has repeatedly slammed the network since 2018 for supposedly failing to air his presidential campaign advertisements in 2016.

ABS-CBN would be forced to shut down its broadcast operations if it fails to secure a fresh 25-year franchise from Congress, which is currently dominated by Duterte’s allies.

Labor group Defend Job Philippines reiterated its call to grant a new franchise, saying Duterte should resolve its rift with the TV executives in the proper channel.

"[He] must stop using the legislative franchise and the job security issue of ABS-CBN workers as hostages to his plans of going after the TV network," it said in a statement on Wednesday.

The TV network, one of the largest in the country, had 6,730 regular employees, 900 non-regular employees and 3,325 talents at the end of 2018, according to its report to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Philippine Stock Exchange.

“Being vital in operating for the next 25 years, the legislative franchise of ABS-CBN will save the jobs and source of livelihood of more than 10,000 Filipino workers and their families,” group spokesperson Christian Lloyd Magsoy said in a statement.

CNN Philippines correspondent Xianne Arcangel contributed to the report.