Cayetano says Congress too busy to tackle ABS-CBN franchise renewal

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House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano says Congress won't be tackling bills renewing ABS-CBN's franchise until May at the earliest, but assured the network won't be shut down even if its franchise expires next month.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 14) — The House of Representatives is still too busy with other pressing concerns for it to tackle bills renewing ABS-CBN's franchise, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said, adding that these won't be picked up until May at the earliest.

Cayetano said he will wait for cooler heads to prevail before he even asks the House Committee on Legislative Franchises to start discussions on whether or not the media giant should be given another 25 years to broadcast news and content.

The lawmaker said the chamber would not tackle such bills in the next couple of weeks running up to the March 30 expiry of the network's existing franchise. He added that discussions may start when Congress resumes sessions in May after their summer break, and at worst, by end-July after President Rodrigo Duterte's annual State of the Nation Address.

"Bakit sinasabi kong hindi io urgent? Don't get me wrong, napaka-importante ng franchise ng ABS-CBN, hindi lang sa 11,000 empleyado... Pero hanggang March 2022 ay pwede silang mag-operate eh [Why am I saying this is not urgent? Don't get me wrong, this is very important. But they can still operate until March 2022]," Cayetano told reporters during a mass wedding ceremony Friday, referring to the end of the 18th Congress. 

"There has been precedent and it looks like everyone agrees," he added, referring to previous agreements between the House and the National Telecommunications Commission to allow media and utility firms to remain in business despite pending franchise renewals. 

READ: No shutdown yet? ABS-CBN can still operate beyond March, solons say 

"Kailangan natin ng lamig ng ulo... Kung tayo ay mag-hearing ngayon, it will suck all the energy of the 18th Congress. Mapapabayaan ang ibang mga importante [We need cooler heads. If we hear these proposals now, it will suck all the energy of the 18th Congress. We'll set aside what's important]," the Speaker said. "There has to be some way that we can soberly discuss this. Magpaliwanagan tayo."

Cayetano said he instructed the House body not to start these discussions now as both the supporters and critics of the network would likely be fueled by passion or anger. He added that while the network is an "institution" in the media, it also had its sins due to supposed "biases" during the 2010 and 2016 elections. He hinted that these could run against provisions of the Fair Election Act that requires media outlets to offer balanced reportage during polls.

"Huwag kayong mag-alala dahil hindi naman mago-off the air ang inyong mga paboritong show. Pero sa ngayon, napakaraming importanteng inaasikaso ng Kongreso," Cayetano added, pointing out it is still busy providing aid to families displaced by earthquakes in Mindanao last year, as well as evacuees due to Taal volcano's eruption in January.

[Translation: Don't worry because your favorite shows won't go off the air yet. But for now, Congress has a lot of urgent matters on its plate.]


He noted that passing a measure that creates a Department for Overseas Filipino workers — which is on President Rodrigo Duterte's legislative wish list — is among the priorities of the chamber.

Cayetano disclosed that he hoped that Solicitor General Jose Calida would not have filed a case against the network before the Supreme Court, but said that it helped in bringing issues against the TV station to light. The quo warranto petition would likewise allow company officials to respond to the allegations.

ABS-CBN: 'We did not violate the law'

Cayetano added that there appears to be a consensus among lawmakers to let the network stay on air as long as there are bills seeking its franchise renewal. "Sometimes, time is on our side," he said.

For now, Cayetano said there's no reason for the network to change how it reports the news, saying the issues raised against ABS-CBN date back to 2016 and earlier. Duterte has repeatedly ranted against the Lopez-owned network for failing to air his campaign advertisements during the 2016 elections.