House panel apologizes to ABS-CBN employees over franchise challenge

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(FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 12)— A member of the House panel set to tackle the long-pending ABS-CBN franchise renewal bills apologized to employees of the embattled network for the delay in case hearings.

Isabela Rep. Antonio Albano Jr., vice chair of the House committee on legislative franchises, condoled with the media workers and other affected individuals for all the “anxiety” the issue has caused.

“We would like to apologize for the problems that is causing this, especially the anxieties of all the employees,” Albano said in an interview with CNN Philippines’ The Source on Wednesday.

“Let me assure the ABS-CBN, its families, at ang kanilang mga network na (their networks that) we are doing our best to make sure that we will hear your case right away.”

Albano assured the bills— a total of eleven pending in the lower chamber— are already being discussed by him and his colleagues, albeit behind closed doors.

The solon, however, admitted it may be difficult to act on the proposed measures before ABS-CBN’s franchise expires on March 30— especially when the calendar of discussions remains unclear.

“I will tell you frankly that masikip na maipasa ang ABS-CBN or even to reject it by the end of our break. But the (leadership) has assured us that this is one of the priority bills that we will tackle,” Albano noted.

ABS-CBN released a statement on Wednesday evening, saying that the television network “appreciates the statement of Albano” and the “commitment of Congress to go through the renewal process” of their franchise.

“We have issued our statement on the Solicitor General’s accusations, and as directed, we will submit a more detailed response to the Supreme Court within the prescribed period,” the statement further said.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano earlier said fair court proceedings will be observed, when the chamber eventually decides to hold its hearings on the bills. The official did not give a specific timeline for the hearing, but said that Congress should not be rushed in its legislative process.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo told CNN Philippines that there is no pressure coming from the president to the Congress regarding the ABS-CBN case.

"Gaya ng ilang beses ko nang sinasabi sa inyo, ang Kongreso lang ang pwedeng mag-grant. Kahit i-veto ng presidente 'yan, pwedeng i-overrule ng Congress 'yan. Kongreso pa rin ang may hawak niyan."

[Translation: Just like what I always say, only the Congress can grant (ABS-CBN’s franchise). Even if the president vetoes that, the Congress can overrule. The Congress is still in charge of that.]

The franchise renewal case was highlighted anew following a petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, who sought to nullify the company’s existing franchise.

Calida cited the network's alleged "highly abusive practices"-- including foreign ownership and operational issues— claims that ABS-CBN itself has debunked.

RELATED: ABS-CBN clarifies they have ‘no unpaid taxes’ amid fight to renew franchise

Meanwhile, some lawmakers said ABS-CBN can continue operations even after its franchise expires— if it secures a provisional authority from the National Telecommunications Commission. They added Congress can act on the pending renewal bills at any time during the 18th Congress, or until the end of June 2022.