ABS-CBN’s franchise can wait, says House Speaker

THE franchise renewal of ABS-CBN Corp. will have to wait until the next Congress as measures to address the pandemic will be the priority of lawmakers, House Speaker Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco said on Thursday, days after the President vowed to block the network’s operations.

“Calls to revive the franchise of ABS-CBN will have to wait until the next Congress,” Mr. Velasco said, as he broke his silence on moves to grant a franchise to the media company after lawmakers last year pulled the plug on its broadcast at the height of the health crisis.

On Monday, President Rodrigo R. Duterte said he would not allow ABS-CBN to operate, even if lawmakers will grant its franchise.

On several occasions, Mr. Duterte had expressed tirades against the network, and had said that it would not “see the light of day.” He cited unaired presidential campaign ads that were never refunded. ABS-CBN apologized in 2020, which he accepted, but called for the company to donate the refund to charity.

ABS-CBN’s 25-year franchise expired on May 4, 2020. Lawmakers voted against its renewal on July 10 as the country was under a strict lockdown imposed to contain the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Mr. Velasco said the government was setting its focus on finishing the remaining priority measures promised by the President, whose term ends next year.

The House Speaker also said lawmakers were prioritizing measures that would help revive the economy after a pandemic-led recession. Among the priority bills is the passage of the P420-billion Bayanihan to Arise as One bill, the third economic stimulus package after the Bayanihan to Heal as One and Bayanihan to Recover as One laws.

“We would like to see the passage of Bayanihan III, as well as other economic bills geared toward rebuilding the Philippine economy shattered by the devastating impact of the global pandemic and rebuilding the lives of every Filipino disrupted by the health crisis,” he said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker and Buhay Partylist Rep. Jose “Lito” L. Atienza, Jr. said lawmakers should stop its pursuit of loans availed by the Lopez group of companies that were allegedly condoned by state-led Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP).

Claims that the loans were written off were among the issues during hearings on ABS-CBN’s franchise extension before lawmakers voted against its renewal.

Mr. Atienza said that the issue is “unvalidated” since documents related to the alleged write-off were from two decades ago, with DBP saying in a House probe in January that these documents were already disposed of.

DBP also denied any condonation, saying the loans were sold to Lehman Brothers Asia Ltd. through a special purpose vehicle of the non-performing assets of the state lender.

The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability voted on the motion to issue a subpoena for the said documents of the transaction, even if the National Archives of the Philippines Act states the retention of documents must only be for five years.

“We should protect the integrity of this House and not allow ourselves to be used for allegations like this that have no basis whatsoever, especially since this particular transaction took place almost 20 years ago. There is always a presumption of regularity, and it is up to the accuser to prove otherwise,” Mr. Atienza said.

“And if there is proof, then let the proper agency such as the Ombudsman investigate and pursue the case. This is not Congress’ job,” he added. — Gillian M. Cortez

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