MANILA - Another ally of President Rodrigo Duterte in the House of Representatives has joined calls for the renewal of the broadcast franchise of ABS-CBN Corporation when the 18th Congress resumes session on January 20.
This as an international human rights organization called on the Philippine Congress to "take immediate steps" towards the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise, set to expire in March.
In a statement Friday, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez asked the House Committee on Legislative Franchises to tackle various bills renewing the franchise of ABS-CBN, which operates free TV Channel 2 and Radio DZMM.
“I urge Chair Franz Alvarez of the House Committee on Legislative Franchise to start hearings on my House Bill No. 5705 renewing the ABS-CBN franchise for another 25 years together with 9 other bills on the same subject matter. Congress should always uphold the Constitutional mandate under Sec 4, Art 3 to ensure the freedom of the press," he said.
Rodriguez, who chairs the Committee on Constitutional Amendments that leads House efforts to amend the 1987 Constitution, stressed that time is running out.
“I request the hearings to be conducted upon the resumption of session on Jan 20. Time is of the essence because the ABS-CBN Franchise will expire on March 30. Congress will adjourn on March 11. There will only be 24 session days from Jan 20 to March 11. “
Rodriguez maintained that all stakeholders must be given their day in court.
“All authors and stakeholders must be heard especially ABS-CBN. Then the Committee will have to decide to renew or not to renew. But it is not proper not to act on my bill and the other bills," he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said he would object to ABS-CBN's franchise renewal.
Aside from ABS-CBN being the Philippines' largest media conglomerate in terms of revenue, operating income, net income, assets, equity, market capitalization and number of employees, Rodriguez pointed out in his Explanatory Note on his bill that ABS-CBN has been big on corporate social responsibility, helping others and in giving back.
“The late Gina Lopez initiated the Bantay Bata 163, the Bantay Kalikasan and the Kapit Bisig para sa Ilog Pasig project," said Rodriguez, in reference to the corporation's programs on the protection of children and the environment.
Earlier this week, opposition lawmaker Edcel Lagman led 11 lawmakers in crossing party lines to file a resolution seeking the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise despite President Duterte’s opposition.
The chief Executive had accused the network of biased coverage and failing to air a 2016 campaign advertisement despite being paid by his campaign.
Due to the President’s continuing objection to the franchise renewal, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises has not acted on eight (8) pending bills similarly proposing a 25-year extension of ABS-CBN’s franchise. Lagman also emphasized that time is running out.
The other authors of bills renewing the ABS-CBN franchise are either leaders or members of the Duterte Majority in the House: Deputy Speakers Johnny Pimentel, Aurelio Dong Gonzales, Rosemarie Baby Arenas and Vilma Santos; Committee Chairs Sol Aragones, a former ABS-CBN reporter, Joey Salceda and Rufus Rodriguez, Commission on Appointments Member Josephine Ramirez-Sato and Representatives Doy Leachon and Joy Myra Tambunting.
The House Leadership has yet to respond to Lagman’s resolution.
In an interview earlier this week, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano did not mention the ABS-CBN franchise renewal among House priorities when asked by the media.
In a previous statement, Alvarez assured ABS-CBN that it would be fair and objective in reviewing its application for the renewal of its franchise, but reminded the media network that this congressional grant allowing it to continue its operations is a privilege, not a right, under the law.
“The advice of Speaker Alan (Peter Cayetano) to us was to make sure that we would be always fair and impartial in reviewing the application of ABS-CBN, or the application of any other public utility, for that matter. At the same time it is Congress' duty to accept complaints and hear issues brought up... or [any] objection," Alvarez said.
“But we should all be reminded that under the law, the grant of a franchise is not a right, but a privilege,” Alvarez added. “This is why we have to hear all sides, and find out if ABS-CBN violated the provisions of its franchise."
Alvarez noted that the Supreme Court, in the case of Radio Communications Philippines Inc. v. National Telecommunications Commission, has already stated that the grant of a franchise is “merely a privilege emanating from the sovereign power of the state and owing its existence to a grant, is subject to regulation by the state itself by virtue of its police power through its administrative agencies.”
HUMAN RIGHTS ORG CALLS CONGRESS TO ACTION
An Asian human rights group, meanwhile, called on Congress to renew ABS-CBN's franchise and "resist pressure from the President to block efforts to do so."
In a statement, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-Asia) said the Philippines' Congress must "stand for freedom of the press" at a time of worsening attacks against the media and press freedom in the country.
"At a time when the international community recognizes the gravity of the violations committed in pursuit of the ‘war on drugs’ and efforts to promote accountability are slowly yielding results, Congress must prove itself capable of standing by its principles and promote the interests of the people. It must resist pressure from the executive and refuse to allow itself to be used to shield the President from accountability," said FORUM-Asia, which has 81 member organizations from 21 Asian countries.