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The House of Representatives started to tackle a bill granting ABS-CBN Corp. a new 25-year franchise.

The decision was made for the chamber by the House Committee on Legislative Franchises that resumed hearings on 13 franchise bills and three resolutions pertaining to the controversial franchise application.

Only one of the 16 legislative measures, a bill filed by Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, contained a new franchise application.

Solicitor General Jose Calida, a fierce oppositor of the ABS-CBN franchise, failed to show up despite the invitation made by the chamber.

Calida, who was supposed to deliver the opening speech against the network, sent word that his testimony before the chamber would endanger him into committing a sub judice violation of a pending court action he filed against ABS-CBN.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano decried the reasoning made by Calida, pointing out that the country’s jurisprudence is opposed to this claim.

“During more normal times, your only excuse for failing to be physically present is that you are not well or out of the country. You cannot absent yourself then make claims to defend your absence,” said Cayetano.

Nevertheless, the House official said the chamber will observe leniency on Calida who will be given another chance to show up and air his side on the legislative franchise application.

House Resolution No. 639 filed by Rep. Edcel Lagman called for the immediate submission of committee report on eight pending franchise renewals. HR 839 authored by Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor assailed the National Telecommunications Commission’s order stopping ABS-CBN’s operation.

HR 853, authored by Reps. Paolo Duterte (HNP, Davao City); Abraham Tolentino (PDP-Laban, Cavite) and Eric Go Yap (ACT CIS Partylist), called for a congressional inquiry into violations of its franchise licenses allegedly committed by the network. The bill required the conduct by the House Committee on Good Government of a joint hearing of the issue.

Jointly presided over by Reps. Franz Alvarez (NUP, Palawan) and Jonathan Sy-Alvarado (NUP, Bulacan), chairman of the legislative and good government committees, respectively, the virtual and actual hearing saw the presence of 22 lawmakers at the House plenary hall. A total 38 joined via zoom virtual conference.

Represented by its president and CEO Carlo Katigbak, ABS-CBN reiterated its appeal for the grant of a congressional franchise, stressing that that it never violated conditions of its recent 25-year legislative franchise.

“And under the law, we are innocent unless proven guilty. Up to now, there is no court that has determined we have broken any laws,” said Katigbak in his opening remarks.

Katigbak appealed on behalf of the 11,000 employes who will bear the impact of a permanent closure of the network.

“We want to do everything we can to protect our employes,” stressed the ABS-CBN official.

A video presentation present by Katigbak showed the extent of the network’s charity, health and public service programs extended to the needy, the sick and victims of natural calamities.

“We agree with you. Mark Lopez, our chairman, and I both commit that even if a franchise is given to us, we will not stop listening to you, and we will continuously take actions that make us a better company,” stated Katibak.

Taking the place of Calida, Deputy Speaker and SAGIP Partylist Rep. Rodante Marcoleta delivered the stand of objectors to the franchise application.

Marcoleta aired issues on the ownership of the network as he claimed that there is no clear evidence indicating that the Lopez family were the rightful owners.

He also accused the network of committing violations of the Constitution for allowing foreign ownership, pointing out that Eugenio ‘Gabby’ Lopez III, who used to be president of the media giant, was an American citizen before re-acquiring his Filipino citizenship in 2002.

The administration solon slammed Katigbak’s claim of championing the cause of ABS-CBN workers, pointing out that there have been labor cases filed and won by aggrieved workers that the network’s management continued to contest.

According to Marcoleta that of the 11,000 workers cited by Katigbak, only 2,551 enjoy regular employment status and enjoy government-mandated benefits.

Marcoleta also recalled that ABS-CBN engaged in partisan politics, citing the claim of President Duterte that his campaign advertisements were not aired during the 2016 presidential polls.

Instead, Marcoleta alleged, the network had actually intended to air anti-Duterte advertisement on the eve of the last day of campaign period, thus, denying the then Davao City mayor his chance to respond.

“You are a broadcasting company and not a political kingmaker. Either you play ball or you play fair,” stated Marcoleta.

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