While speaking during a mass wedding event in Paranaque City, Speaker of the House of Representatives Alan Peter Cayetano addressed the hot button issue of the ABS-CBN franchise and the seeming alleged inaction of Congress. He spoke to both the critics of Congress and the supporters of ABS-CBN to clarify that the House will tackle the franchise in due time and with fairness.
“This is not a race of time. This is a race towards justice and democracy,” Speaker Cayetano said. He was referring to the pressing timeline facing the renewal, which is set to expire on March 30. Congress is set to take a recess by March 13, which gives just a few weeks for the franchise bill to begin its committee deliberations.
However, the tight timeline is not enough to sway the House of Representatives into any rash action. According to both Senate President Tito Sotto and House Committee on Legislative Franchises Chairman Rep. Albano, ABS CBN will likely be allowed to operate without a franchise for another year after its expiry, particularly because bills seeking its renewal are pending in the 18th Congress.
For Speaker Cayetano, this means that Congress needs to have the appropriate time and venue to discuss the franchise.
2020 is only midway through February and yet it has already dealt several blows to the world. The Philippines has had to address the eruption of Taal and the sudden spread of COVID-19. Several issues carried over from last year, like the high magnitude and intensity earthquakes which rocked the Davao Region. Congress has simply lacked the ample time to discuss the important issue of ABS CBN when other more serious public concerns kept arising.
This is not to say that the Speaker is taking the renewal issue lightly – he is simply stating the prioritization of the franchise matter needs to be logical. With life-threatening disasters like Taal volcano eruption occur, the interests of corporations need to take a back seat. Sorry, but you just aren’t as important as you think you are, ABS CBN. There are people dying.
Justice and democracy themselves are strong themes in the ABS-CBN franchise issue, particularly since the media corporation has been involved in several alleged violations. If these allegations are found true, some of which are leveled against them by no less that President Duterte, then ABS-CBN needs to be held accountable. But as an institution of the media, ABS-CBN does represent to some people the very idea of press freedom. These critics of the administration wrongly equate the investigation into ABS-CBN’s allegedly fraudulent corporate operations as a violation of the freedom of press and a dictatorial silencing of the media. However, ABS-CBN, though definitely one of the richest companies in the country, is just one of many broadcasting firms who have a legislative franchise to operate in the Philippines.
However, Speaker Cayetano said that ABS CBN needs to provide a much more solid argument for their renewal, particularly on what reforms they would implement to prevent their future violations of the Fair Election Act. Given the amount of criticisms and allegations thrown against ABS-CBN, not the least of which is the quo warranto petition against the company filed by Solicitor General Calida in the Supreme Court.
The bottom line is simple. ABS CBN does not have a sparkling record, despite what their board members will say. Arguable, it is an institution of Philippine culture. But does that place it above the law? Does that mean that it cannot be held accountable for its violations? To move forward in the discussion, ABS-CBN needs to stop confusing the issue of press freedom with its corporate interests.
Congress has been given the authority and responsibility to grant legislative franchises to deserving media outfits. The House’s duty is to the people, the constituents they represent. The House is not obligated to give ABS-CBN a venue to advocate the interests of their board members. The House will pursue justice and democracy on this matter, for the good of the people.