ABS-CBN provisional franchise bill approved on second reading

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 13) — Embattled media giant ABS-CBN is a step closer to resuming broadcast operations after the House of Representatives on Wednesday approved on second reading a bill giving the network provisional franchise.

The proposed measure, sponsored by House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, seeks to allow ABS-CBN to operate until October 31, 2020 while Congress deliberates on whether to grant it a fresh 25-year franchise.

The bill needs to be approved on third and final reading and sent to the Senate. After both chambers agree on a proposal, the bill will be sent to President Rodrigo Duterte for enactment.

ABS-CBN went off the air on May 5 following a shutdown order from the National Telecommunications Commission, a day after the expiration of its franchise. Both the NTC and the House have been blamed for the network's closure, since the regulator earlier promised to give it provisional authority, while the lower chamber refused to tackle bills on the renewal of its franchise.

Cayetano said it was still "not the time" to tackle issues surrounding ABS-CBN's operations, but stressed that the House has to "do what is right." It was "wrong for the government" to stop the network's TV and radio broadcasts amid the coronavirus pandemic, Cayetano said.

He reiterated that the NTC should have not reneged on its earlier statement under oath that it would give ABS-CBN a provisional authority to operate following a request from both the House and the Senate.

Cayetano also hit Solicitor General Jose Calida for his "unconstitutional meddling" when he warned that a provisional permit could expose the NTC commissioners to graft charges.

However, Cayetano also blamed ABS-CBN for immediately going off air following NTC's order. He called it a "strategy."

"Maybe you wanted to humble yourself before the law, maybe gusto ninyong magpaawa (you are seeking sympathy)," he said.

He called on the network, its employees and celebrities, along with its supporters from the media and even the House, to stop calling for an automatic franchise renewal and let the Congress do its job.

"We will provide ABS-CBN with a provisional franchise valid for October 31, 2020 within which time both the House of Representatives and the Senate will hear the issues being raised for and against the renewal, and assess, with complete impartiality and fairness, whether or not the network shall be granted a franchise," Cayetano said.

Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte, one of the authors of the bill, said they have set a deadline for themselves to finally make a decision on ABS-CBN's fate by October.


Senators welcomed the House's move, saying it is possible for ABS-CBN to finally secure a franchise, depending on how fast their counterparts' deliberations would go.

ABS-CBN's shutdown hogged international headlines, as more than 11,000 media workers stand to lose their jobs while the world is battling COVID-19.

It was heavily criticized as an attack on press freedom, since President Rodrigo Duterte had publicly threatened ABS-CBN over the network's refusal to carry his campaign commercials in 2016.

Duterte earlier accepted an apology from ABS-CBN. His spokesperson, Harry Roque said Duterte is "completely neutral" on ABS-CBN's franchise renewal, and the lawmakers should decide on it without worrying about what the President would feel.

The Lopez-owned network earlier asked the Supreme Court to declare "null and void" the cease and desist order issued by the NTC for violating its right to due process, equal protection of the laws, and freedom of speech.

CNN Philippines' Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.