Cayetano on calls for ABS-CBN franchise discussions: 'Hearing does not mean automatic renewal'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 12)— Holding immediate hearings on the ABS-CBN franchise case will not guarantee an "automatic renewal" of the media giant's license, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said Tuesday amid renewed calls to finally tackle the long-pending measures in the lower chamber.

"To those calling for an immediate hearing on this matter, including my colleagues in Congress, let me just be very clear - a hearing does not mean automatic renewal," Cayetano wrote in a statement posted on his social media page.

In a letter addressed to Cayetano earlier in the day, 14 lawmakers who have authored bills on ABS-CBN's franchise bid urged the Speaker to green light the committee hearings, saying the move would help put an end to "uncertainties" amid the country's current health crisis.

Cayetano, in response, said the resumption of panel discussions will only let the network and other concerned parties present their arguments. He said that it is important for Congress to allot time to review the case, and that only a series of "proper" hearings and comprehensive discussions can shed light on the issues hounding it.

The House leader— an ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, who earlier vowed to ensure the network's franchise will not be renewed— has come under fire from critics who blame him for the delay in the hearings.

READ: Duterte to ABS-CBN: Next year, you're out

"The serious concerns that have been raised can no longer be swept under the rug, and it is absolutely necessary for Congress to give this matter all the time and attention it requires. Without a series of ‘proper’ hearings we will never be able to put an end to the uncertainties and doubt," Cayetano said, noting that the chamber will remain cognizant of the pending franchise case.

'House responsibility to end uncertainties'

In their letter, the lawmakers, who have crossed party lines, appealed for the immediate convening of the House committee on legislative franchise, where numerous ABS-CBN franchise renewal bills remain pending.

"We firmly believe that the House now has the primary duty and responsibility to put an end to the uncertainties and confusion brought by the pendency of the application of renewal of the ABS-CBN's franchise," the lawmakers wrote in the letter, while also expressing frustration on the National Telecommunications Commission's controversial flip-flop decision on the company's operations.

READ: House panel to NTC: Explain why you shouldn't be held in contempt for ABS-CBN closure order

The appeal comes a week after ABS-CBN officially went off air, in compliance with the NTC's cease and desist order due to the expiry of the media company's legislative license.

The development was met with a flurry of protests from netizens, who have called for the upholding of press freedom, as well as lawmakers, who warned of the additional burden this may cause to the current COVID-19 crisis.

Measures have been filed before the House since November 2016 to extend ABS-CBN’s franchise to continue airing on radio and free TV. But Cayetano earlier this year said lawmakers were “too busy” with more urgent measures, with the Taal Volcano eruption and the COVID-19 pandemic issues on deck.

The bills' authors argued that resolving ABS-CBN's case is "equally important given the impact, economically and politically, of its continued shutdown in this time of crisis."

ABS-CBN, through a 46-page petition for certiorari and prohibition, on May 7 sought relief from the Supreme Court in a bid to nullify the order that forced it to go off the air. Senators on Monday also signed a resolution asking NTC to revoke its shutdown order on the media company, citing the need for news access as well as to save the jobs of thousands of workers.

CNN Philippines correspondent Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.