Bills to Renew ABS-CBN’s Franchise Have Been Pending in Congress for Years
After ABS-CBN was forced to stop TV and radio broadcasting by the National Telecommunications Commission on Tuesday night, questions turned to how exactly the network was put into this position.
Most people already know that, as a broadcast network, ABS-CBN needs to secure a franchise in order to operate, and this franchise can only be obtained through Congress (Republic Act 3846).
These franchises are typically handed out over a period of 25 years. Prior to 2017, GMA Network, a rival company of ABS-CBN, had operated for 25 years on the basis of RA 7252, which was signed into law in March 1992. After that, President Rodrigo Duterte signed RA 10925 on April 2017, effectively allowing GMA Network to keep running and broadcasting for another 25 years.
But what about ABS-CBN?
The Lopez-owned network was last granted a congressional franchise in 1995, after then-President Fidel Ramos signed RA 7966.
The first attempt to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise was made by Isabela Representative Giorgidi Aggabao during the 16th Congress in September 2014. House Bill 4997 never progressed beyond the committee level.
Since then, at least a dozen different bills have been filed in the Lower House seeking to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise, with the earliest one (after Rep Aggabao’s bill) being filed during the 17th Congress in 2018.
Here is a list of all those bills. While a couple are attempts to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN Convergence, formerly known as Multi-Media telephony Inc. (which handles the network’s mobile phone service and TV Plus), most are for the extension of ABS-CBN Corporation, the company’s main arm.
House Bill 8163 – Introduced by Reps. Karlo and Jericho Nograles during the 17th Congress. Dated August 30, 2018.
House Bill 4349 – Introduced by Rep. Micaela Violago during the 17th Congress. Dated November 10, 2018.
House Bill 676 – Introduced by Rep. Micaela Violago during the 18th Congress. Dated July 1, 2019.
House Bill 3064 – Introduced by Rep. Jericho Nograles during the 18th Congress. Dated July 29, 2019.
Hous Bill 3521 - Introduced by Rep. Rose Marie Arenas during the 18th Congress. Dated August 6, 2019.
House Bill 3713 – Introduced by Rep. Joy Myra Tambunting during the 18th Congress. Dated August 8, 2019.
House Bill 3947 – Introduced by Rep. Sol Aragones during the 18th Congress. Dated Augist 14, 2019.
House Bill 4305 – Introduced by Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto during the 18th Congress. Dated September 2, 2019.
House Bill 5608 – Introduced by Reps. Johnny Pimentel and Paulino Salvador Leachon during the 18th Congress. Dated November 25, 2019.
House Bill 5705 – Introduced by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez during the 18th Congress. Dated December 4, 2019.
House Bill 5753 – Introduced by Rep. Josephine Ramirez Sato during the 18th Congress. Dated December 9, 2019.
House Bill 0639 – Introduced by Reps. Edcel Lagman, Micaela Violago, Joy Myra Tambunting, Johnny Pimentel, Doy Leachon, Jocelyn Limkaichong, Emmanuel Billones, Christopher Belmonte, France Castro, Carlos Zarate, Eufemia Cullamat during the 18th Congress. Dated January 6, 2020.
This was a resolution “urging the committee on legislative franchises to report out without further delay for plenary action a consolidated version of eight pending bills proposing for the renewal for another 25 years of the legislative franchise of ABS-CBN Corporation.”
House Bill 6052 – Introduced by Reps. Carlos Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite, Eufemial Cullamat, France Castro, Arlene Brosas, Sarah Jane Elago during the 18th Congress. Dated Januray 27, 2020.
House Bill 6138 – Introduced by Rep. Mark Go during the 18th Congress. Dated January 30, 2020.
House Bill 6293 – Introduced by Rep. Loren Legarda during the 18th Congress. Dated Feb 13, 2020.
Not one of these bills made it past the committee level.
The question now is: why did the House not act on these bills in time to prevent ABS-CBN from shutting down its operations completely?
The answer may lie with the current Speaker of the House, Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, who, on more than one occasion, has said that tackling ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal was not on the Lower House’s priority agenda.
Cayetano is a known ally of President Rodrigo Duterte and was his running mate during the 2016 presidential elections.
The NTC issued a cease-and-desist order to the network to stop broadcasting once its current franchise lapses.
Even Solicitor General Jose Calida, who had earlier warned the NTC officials that they would be charged with contempt if they issued a provisional permit to operate to ABS-CBN, is pointing the finger at Congress.
Time will tell what the next chapter is in this whole sordid story.