Duterte accepts ABS-CBN apology, silent on franchise support

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 26) — President Rodrigo Duterte has accepted the apology of broadcast giant ABS-CBN for airing a smear ad against him by opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.

Nandiyan na eh (It’s already there.) I accept the apology, of course,” Duterte told reporters Wednesday at Malacañang.

But Duterte said ABS-CBN should just donate the remaining ₱2.6-million the network owes him for its failure to air his political advertisements during the 2016 election.

Despite accepting the apology, Duterte was noncommittal on the renewal of the TV network’s fate, refusing to say whether he will approve or reject a bill passed by Congress granting ABS-CBN a fresh 25-year franchise.

He said he may consult the media whether or not to approve the bill on ABS-CBN’s franchise.

ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak publicly apologized to Duterte during the first congressional hearing on their franchise at the Senate, over the airing of the advertisement which questioned if a tough-talking, cursing politician would be a good fit for president.

"We are sorry if we offended the President. That was not the intention of the network. We felt that we were just abiding by regulations that surround the airing of political ads,” Katigbak said Monday.

‘Critical move’ with House

Duterte is also keeping a hands-off approach to Solicitor General Jose Calida’s bid to void ABS-CBN’s franchise through a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court.

Ang problema nitong sa [The problem here with the] SolGen, once he makes an official statement that there is violation of law then I cannot just tell him to stop,” he said.

He said the fate of ABS-CBN’s franchise lies with Congress, adding that the “critical move” is with the House of Representatives which is yet to hold a single hearing on bill seeking a new franchise.

Duterte said he has never and will not interfere in congressional deliberations on the issue.

House Committee on Legislative Franchises vice chair Rep. Tonypet Albano said Duterte's acceptance of ABS-CBN's apology paves the way for a better timing for the House to take up the TV network's franchise and for them to have a "good hearing."

"In the coming days, weeks, and months, we expect to tackle this franchise bill and show the world that we as legislators in the House are fair, honest, and hard working to promulgate a justifiable and amicable decision for ABS-CBN and its employees," Albano said.

It is still not clear when the House will finally schedule ABS-CBN's franchise for hearing. Congress only has six session days to tacke the TV network's franchise before it goes on a break from March 14 to May 3.

ABS-CBN's existing franchise expires May 4 — the same day Congress returns from a seven-week break..

ABS-CBN’s proposed franchise has yet to move in the House of Representatives, with the legislative franchises committee just beginning to receive comments about it, while the Supreme Court has deferred discussions on Calida’s quo warranto petition to March 10.

The House formally asked Wednesday the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to give ABS-CBN a provisional permit so it can continue operating pending the renewal of its franchise.

It also requested the same for ABS-CBN's subsidiaries and affiliates, including ABS-CBN Convergence, Sky Cable Corporation, and Amcara Broadcasting Network, Inc.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said this would be enough to make sure the network continues operating even beyond the expiry of franchise, but added that a similar move from the Senate would provide a “tougher armor” for the NTC in the event of a legal challenge.

Resolutions have been filed in both houses of Congress seeking to extend ABS-CBN’s franchise pending its renewal, but some Congress leaders said this is not needed as the NTC has granted provisional permits in the past even without the legislature’s action.

A 1994 agreement between the House, the NTC and the media group Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas provides a mechanism for media entities with expiring Congressional franchises.

The memorandum of understanding states that the NTC "shall continue to issue and grant permits or authorizations to operate" for radio and TV stations for a two-year period as long as there is a pending bill seeking to renew its franchise.

However, former Chief Justice Reynato Puno said this could no longer be done, since a 2003 Supreme Court decision, which he himself penned, had ruled that there is a need for an existing license before a corporation can operate.

CNN Philippines’ Janine Peralta, Eimor Santos and Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.