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House ducks ABS-CBN issue

Keith A. Calayag



No friendly tail wagged yesterday as the House of Representatives seemingly avoided tackling the controversial ABS-CBN franchise bills when the session prematurely adjourned sans the presence of the House leaders.

Citing lack of a quorum, Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Wilter Palma II sought to adjourn the session quickly after the national anthem and the invocation were delivered. Deputy Speaker Henry Oaminal, presiding over the session, approved the motion as there was no objection.

Palma cited the “official travel of our lady legislators” as reason for the poor attendance.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano did not attend the session as he was said to be in a meeting with the female lawmakers.

Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza viewed the incident as a way by many members of the House to evade discussions on the ABS-CBN franchise bills after Solicitor General (SolGen) Jose Calida filed a quo warranto case against the media network giant, whose franchise is set to expire on 30 March.

“They adjourned it prematurely, why? Because they don’t want to answer questions? I promise myself, I’ll keep on asking the same questions everyday until I get an intelligent answer,” Atienza said.

On Monday, Atienza delivered a privilege speech criticizing the House committee on legislative franchises for its supposed refusal to act on the 11 pending bills seeking renewal of the firm’s franchise.

He also demanded the resignation of its chairman, Rep. Franz Alvarez if he continues sitting on the bills.

“When you’re hiding something, it is very difficult to engage anyone in debate. I am prepared to debate with anyone who is willing to defend what they are doing,” Atienza added.

He also slammed the committee for tackling franchise bills in executive sessions.

Earlier in the day the panel’s vice chairman and Isabela Rep. Antonio Albano said the legislative franchises panel is having closed door meetings to discuss franchise extension requests, including that of ABS-CBN.

“There is no such thing as a closed door meeting. I speak for transparency, truth, justice the rule of law and not rule of men,” Atienza said.

Atienza said he will keep on challenging the chamber to not allow the Supreme Court to usurp the power of the House to grant legislative franchises.

But some lawmakers opined that ABS-CBN may still operate until 2022 sans a franchise extension from Congress.

“May I remind the public that even if ABS-CBN’s franchise expires on the said date (in) March, it does not mean that ABS-CBN will close completely,” Albano said.

If the panel will not act on the franchise renewal bills, the franchise of ABS-CBN may be deemed extended until the conclusion of the 18th Congress, Albano added.

PBA Rep. Jericho “Koko” Nograles, a member of the legislative franchises panel and one of the lawmakers who filed bills seeking extension of ABS-CBN franchise, explained that the firm will only have to seek provisional authority to operate from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

“It will not automatically go off the air if the NTC will give it provisional authority pending the hearings of Congress, or the dissipation of Congress when it comes to congressional franchise,” Nograles told reporters.

On Monday, SolGen Calida filed a petition seeking to nullify the franchise given to ABS-CBN for supposed violations of the laws.

Both Albano and Nograles said the House can still hear the 11 bills seeking ABS-CBN franchise extension despite a quo warranto petition at the Supreme Court.

“The House of Representatives can still continue hearing matters on legislative franchises. If you read the Constitution matters of legislative franchises belong to the legislature,” he said.

Up to the leadership

Despite appeals from the public and from lawmakers for the committee to act on ABS-CBN’s franchise request, Albano and Nograles disclosed that there is no schedule yet for a hearing on these bills.

Albano admitted that it is up to the leadership of the House to decide.

“To be honest here, it’s up to the leadership of Congress, the Speaker, the House committee chairman and our leaders to decide when to hear it,” said Albano.

Cayetano has yet to speak about the ABS-CBN franchise even as he earlier said the panel will hear franchise bills this February.

Malacañang, manwhile, denied having a hand in the SolGen’s filing of a quo warranto case against ABS-CBN.

“It was pursuant to the SolGen’s Constitutional duty,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said. “We will leave it to the Supreme Court vis-a-vis that petition.”

“It is Congress, it is not the President,” Panelo reiterated.

SC spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka, meanwhile, said the petition was included in the magistrate’s agenda yesterday.

with Alvin Murcia

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