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Cayetano slams bias at ABS-CBN

Keith A. Calayag



House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano took a swipe anew at unnamed members of ABS-CBN for exhibiting “bias” and for allegedly using the network to meddle in the previous elections.

In an hour-long speech on Wednesday, Cayetano alleged that “these people have turned the franchise woes of ABS-CBN into an issue of press freedom.”

“Some may say that they are in the service of the Filipino people, but in the middle of a calamity, you want us to prioritize you than the rest of our countrymen. But you are one of the reasons why there are issues with your network. In the eyes of some, there is clear bias and meddling in the elections, which is against the law. And you used this network — in 2004, 2010, 2016 and 2019,” Cayetano said.

“Then you’re going to cover this up by saying it is against press freedom. We’re not saying all journalists do this, but just like the times you say all politicians are corrupt, all police officers are abusive — the whole institution is affected by these wrongdoings,” he added.

Cayetano was alluding to the broadcast network’s tagline “in the service of the Filipino.”

On Wednesday, Cayetano sponsored a bill seeking to grant ABS-CBN a provisional franchise valid until 31 October — a measure that was approved on second reading on the same day.

No choice

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Thursday said that the Chamber has no choice but to approve the House of Representatives’ (HoR) version of the provisional franchise for ABS-CBN as disagreeing versions of the measure may not be approved before 3 June.

In a television interview a day after HoR approved the provisional franchise bill which is valid until 31 October 2020 on second reading, Drilon said that the timetable for the Senate to pass the measure is very tight, noting that the amendments for the House version may not be introduced given the time constraints.

“We are practically given no choice but to approve the version of the HoR, because of the danger that the difference in version may require a Bicam and may result in the Bicam not coming up with the recommendation by 3 June of this year,” he said.

“I do not know if we have time to pass a different version and settle the issue in the Bicam. Remember that if we adjourn on 3 June without approving the version, then that’s it. That’s why our time is very limited,” he said.

Both Houses will close the First Regular Session of the 18th Congress on 5 June and their last plenary session will be held on 3 June.

All franchise bills must emanate from the HoR before the Senate passes its own version.

Bills and joint resolutions providing for ABS-CBN provisional franchise were also filed before the Senate.

At least a year

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said they will try to negotiate with their counterparts in the House of Representatives to make the provisional franchise for ABS-CBN last for at least a year.

In a video teleconference, Zubiri explained that the circumstances might change in the following months as the COVID-19 health crisis in the country has yet to be addressed.

This might affect the legislative priorities of Congress and this might cause ABS-CBN’s closure anew.

It was the not the first time that Cayetano raised allegations that the broadcast giant interfered in the previous elections.

Critics, however, pointed out that Cayetano should have filed a complaint against ABS-CBN if there really was an interference during the 2016 polls.

He was the running-mate of President Rodrigo Duterte in the 2016 elections, who also had a grudge against the network for not airing P7-million worth of political advertisements.

Last February, ABS-CBN President Carlo Katigbak has apologized to the Chief Executive for the delay in the refund of P2.6 million unaired political ads, and clarified that the P4 million had been refunded to the President’s camp.

NTC apology

Meanwhile, The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has apologized to Congress for failing to notify the same that it will issue a cease and desist order (CDO) against ABS-CBN broadcast operations.

“We regret for failing to notify you, the Honorable Speaker, and the House of Representatives, and in particular the Chairperson and members of the Committee on Legislative Franchises, of our decision to issue a CDO against ABS-CBN following the expiration of its franchise last 4 May 2020,” the NTC said in a letter dated 12 May sent Cayetano and legislative franchises panel chairman Franz Alvarez.

“We are deeply saddened as well for the inconvenience we may have caused Congress. Again, we express our contriteness and sincere apologies for the ensuing confusion this has caused, not the least because we are in the midst of a crisis,” it added.

NTC’s letter is in response to the show cause order sent by the legislative franchises panel which ordered the agency to explain why it should not be cited in contempt for allegedly disrespecting the Chamber.

The NTC said it should have been more prudent and at the very least alerted Congress of its inability based on legal grounds to issue provisional authority to ABS-CBN.

with Hananeel Bordey