By Genshen L. Espedido
A BILL seeking to provide a provisional franchise to ABS-CBN Corp. until October 31, 2020 was approved at the committee level on Wednesday, the same day it was filed.
The House of Representatives, constituted as a Committee of the Whole, tackled and approved House Bill 6732 during its plenary session.
The bill is authored by House Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano; Deputy Speakers Neptali M. Gonzales, Raneo E. Abu, Roberto V. Puno, Dan S. Fernandez and Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte; Jr., House Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez; and Bulacan Rep. Jose Antonio R. Sy-Alvarado.
“Through this measure, we hope to strike a balance between the immediate needs of the people amid this crisis and the duty of Congress to ensure accountability to our present laws. Providing ABS-CBN with a provisional franchise valid until 31 October 2020 will give both the House of Representatives and the Senate to hear the issues being raised for and against the renewal and assess…whether or not the network shall be granted a franchise for another twenty-five years,” part of the explanatory note read.
Under the bill, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) is mandated to grant appropriate permits and licenses for the operation of ABS-CBN.
The bill also requires that ABS-CBN provide “adequate public service time” free of charge to enable the government to relay important public announcements.
“Public service time referred herein shall be equivalent to ten percent (10%) of the paid commercials or advertisements which shall be allocated based on the need to the executive, legislative, judiciary, constitutional commissions and international humanitarian organizations,” it said.
The measure also empowers the President to temporarily take over and operate the stations “in times of war, rebellion, public peril, calamity, emergency, disaster or disturbance of peace and order.”
During his sponsorship speech, Mr. Cayetano said that whatever the outcome of the hearings will be, there will be “reforms” not only for ABS-CBN, but for the entire media industry.
“There must be, not just a new, but a better ‘normal’ not only for ABS-CBN, but for the entire media industry,” he said.
The bill will have to go through second and third reading before it hurdles the lower chamber and relayed to the Senate.
Mr. Cayetano is supposed to step down from House speakership and will be replaced by Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco at the end of October.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said that the Senate would schedule a committee hearing on the ABS-CBN franchise early next week.
“With the House of Representatives passing the measure on 2nd reading with a 3rd reading schedule next week. We in the Senate will proceed to schedule the Committee hearing early next week to pass the committee report and hopefully sponsor the measure by Wednesday afternoon before the Committee of the Whole hearings on COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019). Hopefully we can pass the measure the week after. We will work expeditiously to pass the measure up-to ratification before the June 3 break,” he told reporters in a Viber message.
A counterpart bill, Senate Bill 1521, seeks to grant ABS-CBN a provisional franchise until June 2022. It was filed in the Senate on Monday.