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Trial of the century

The next hearing will be on Monday at 9 a.m. Invited was Solicitor General Jose Calida, and that’s another matchstick waiting to be lit up.

Darren M. de Jesus

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The House Committee on Legislative Franchises and the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability began joint deliberations Tuesday on bills seeking the renewal of the legislative franchise of ABS-CBN for 25 years. For the first time, the House Plenary Hall was used for a committee hearing. Clearly, this matter is being given some preferential action.

Proceedings were trial type but less technical than court proceedings. In his opening remarks, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano vowed that the House will hear all arguments for and against the renewal, and decide on the facts fairly. The Speaker remained firm that the chamber would not be forced into making the wrong decision. He enjoined all advocates from both sides — those pushing for the 25-year franchise, and those who are against it — to let their positions be heard by showing up in the hearings. It will be a ‘hybrid’ hearing — House Members, ABS-CBN representatives, and resource persons may be physically present in the Batasan or in the Zoom meeting.

Committee on Legislative Franchises Chairman Rep. Franz Alvarez (1st District, Palawan) acknowledged that the ABS-CBN franchise renewal is the most controversial franchise handled by the committee under his chairmanship. He promised that the hearings would look into all allegations lodged against ABS-CBN comprehensively. “[We] should not let the controversies and the noise from outside cloud our deliberations and our judgments within this committee. At its most basic, a franchise is simply a privilege granted to private corporations to conduct business using a government resource,” Alvarez said.

Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability Chairman Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado (1st District, Bulacan) cited Article VI, Section 24 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which states that private bills shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives. He then recounted the statement of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba during the previous hearing that the agency shall grant provisional authority to ABS-CBN for them to be allowed to operate after 4 May, while the network’s franchise is being heard in Congress.

Meanwhile, Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez announced that he would seek to have all the committees of the House authorized to conduct hearings and deliberations on noteworthy and meaningful proposed legislations even while the House is on recess. He promised that the beginning of hearings for the ABS-CBN franchise renewal would not take away the focus from other urgent and priority legislation that the country needs, to curb the spread of COVID-19 and get the economy back on track.

“We must work doubly hard not only to arrive at the decision on whether to grant the franchise application of ABS-CBN but more importantly, to craft and put into fruition the passage of the priority measures relative to the fight against the pandemic, and the eventual defeat of COVID-19. Thus, it is only in this premise and context that I support the continuous hearings of the Committee on Legislative Franchises on the franchise application of ABS-CBN,” Romualdez said.

ABS-CBN President and Chief Executive Officer Carlo Katigbak delivered his opening statement, appealing to the House Members to grant the franchise renewal to help provide jobs for their 11,000 displaced employees. He cited that many Filipinos relied on the network for the latest news, as well as for entertainment.

Delivering the opening statement on behalf of the oppositors, Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta laid out several alleged violations committed by ABS-CBN. While he sympathized with the workers who lost their source of income, he asserted that ABS-CBN should properly state their side, not through emotional appeal. Among the matters raised were ABS-CBN’s alleged foreign ownership, tax liabilities, political biases, and labor issues.

The main takeaway considered by netizens was the presentation of Marcoleta that started with Kim Chiu, and ended with Vice Ganda and Pastor Apollo Quiboloy. These were meant to get the attention of the public to the substance of the allegations of Marcoleta. A specific slide showed the tax payments of ABS-CBN side by side with that of GMA 7’s, which revealed a glaring disparity.

These matters will be further discussed in the next hearings that may turn out to be the “trial of the century.” The next hearing will be on Monday at 9 a.m. Invited was Solicitor General Jose Calida, and that’s another matchstick waiting to be lit up.

Email: darren.dejesus@house.gov.ph
or tweet @darrendejesus.

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