Palace calls for conscience vote on ABS-CBN franchise as hearings wrap up

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 07 2020 03:40 PM | Updated as of Jul 07 2020 05:36 PM

Supporters and employees write messages of encouragement on a freedom wall outside the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Center in Quezon City, July 5, 2020. Michael Bagtas, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Members of Congress should vote on the ABS-CBN franchise issue according to their conscience, Malacañang said Tuesday as lawmakers wrap up this week their hearings on bills seeking to grant the broadcasting network a fresh 25-year license to operate.

President Rodrigo Duterte remains "neutral" on the company's bid for a new franchise, his spokesman Harry Roque said in a Palace briefing.

"Humingi na po ng tawad sa kanya, pinatawad na niya," Roque said, referring to the apology offered by ABS-CBN President Carlo Katigbak in February over an aired negative political advertisement in 2016 that offended Duterte.

(They asked for forgiveness and he has forgiven the company.)

"Neutral po siya (Duterte). Vote according to your conscience," added Roque.

While he accepted the apology, Duterte had said he is leaving the fate of ABS-CBN's franchise to Congress.

The President had previously threatened to block ABS-CBN's bid for a new franchise.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Monday said he too was seeking a "conscience vote" among his colleagues.

ABS-CBN has been off the air for more than two months already since the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) on May 5 shut down its free television and radio services.

The NTC committed in March to lawmakers that it will let the network stay on air while Congress deliberates on ABS-CBN's new franchise application.

Last week, the NTC also closed down ABS-CBN's digital broadcast in Metro Manila and its sister company's SKYDirect services, following the advice of Solicitor General Jose Calida, who in February sought to nullify the network's franchise due to alleged abuses.

The Supreme Court has junked Calida's petition, saying the issue has become "moot and academic" as ABS-CBN's previous franchise expired May 4.

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