COVER STORY

TIMELINE: ABS-CBN franchise

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — TV network ABS-CBN faces an uncertain future.

The Lopez-owned network’s franchise is yet to be renewed by Congress, while its most recent authority to broadcast has been put in peril after Solicitor General Jose Calida asked the Supreme Court to void it.

Apart from its flagship ABS-CBN channel, the media conglomerate also operates other brands such as ABS-CBN Sports and Action, DZMM Teleradyo, cable channels ABS-CBN News Channel or ANC, Cinema One, Jeepney TV, Knowledge Channel, Metro Channel, Myx, and global channel TFC.

The network also started offering digital TV boxes which carries KBO, a channel airing Filipino movies. This was one of the two issues raised by Calida in asking the high court to revoke ABS-CBN’s franchise.

This is the first time for the oldest TV station in the country to go through problems with franchise renewal, with numerous bills set aside as the country faced the Taal volcano eruption and the COVID-19 pandemic in the months running up to the expiry of the franchise on May 4, 2020. 

Here’s a timeline of events:

June 14, 1950: Republic Act No. 511 is passed giving a temporary permit for Bolinao Electronics Corporation to operate a television station in the Philippines. The firm is renamed Alto Broadcasting System in 1953, patterned after the first names of its new owners Aleli and Tony Quirino, the brother of former President Elpidio Quirino.

February 24, 1957: Lawyer and businessman Eugenio Lopez Sr. buys the company from the Quirinos. This leads to the merger of ABS and Chronicle Broadcasting Network or CBN.

June 21, 1969: RA 5730 becomes law, which converts Bolinao Electronics Corporation’s franchise into ABS-CBN.

September 21, 1972: ABS-CBN, along with other networks and affiliate stations, are told to go off the air while media assets are seized as then-President Ferdinand Marcos puts the entire nation under martial law. Media content is controlled by the state.

September 16, 1986: ABS-CBN resumes daily broadcasts nearly seven months after a "people power" revolt toppled the Marcos regime.

March 30, 1995: President Fidel Ramos signs RA 7966 granting a 25-year franchise to ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation. The renewal comes five years ahead of the expiry of its franchise. This took effect May 4, 1995, taking into account the 15-day window after its publication in a newspaper, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has explained.

September 11, 2014: Isabela Representative Giorgidi Aggabao files House Bill 4997 under the 16th Congress, in the first attempt to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise ahead of its March 2020 expiration. This does not get past the committee level.

May 6, 2016: Former Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, President Rodrigo Duterte’s running mate for the presidential elections, gets a Taguig court to issue a temporary restraining order stopping ABS-CBN from airing TV commercials against Duterte. The said ads are supposedly paid for by members of the opposition.

RELATED: Presidential, VP bets spend ₱6.7 billion on pre-election campaign ads - PCIJ

November 10, 2016: Rep. Micaela Violago of the second district of Nueva Ecija files House Bill 4349 seeking to renew the network’s franchise, followed by a similar bill drafted by brothers Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles and PBA Party-List Rep. Jericho Nograles. Both remain at the committee level.

November 8, 2018: Duterte unleashes one of his public rants against ABS-CBN for failing to air his campaign advertisements for the May 2016 elections. He curses the network’s chairman emeritus Gabby Lopez and called him a thief, saying he will reject the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise. 

Duterte previously slammed the media conglomerate for its supposedly unfair labor practices, and earlier challenged the network to accompany him to the central bank to open his bank accounts, amid news reports that he had undeclared wealth.

July 1, 2019: Violago refiles her bill for the franchise renewal on the second day of the 18th Congress, with 20 other House members signing up as co-authors of the measure. Ten other bills are filed to give ABS-CBN a fresh legal mandate.

July 28, 2019: Senator Ralph Recto files a similar bill to extend ABS-CBN’s franchise for another 25 years. Sen. Leila De Lima later asked to be co-author of the measure.

December 3, 2019: Duterte says he will personally “see to it” that ABS-CBN will be out of business by 2020. He later tells the Lopezes to just sell the network to a new owner. 

December 4, 2019: Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, chairman of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, says they would not tackle the bills on ABS-CBN until the end of that year. House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano says the measures can be taken up early 2020.

February 10, 2020: Calida heads to the high court with a quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN, saying it committed two grave violations of its existing franchise. He claims the network allowed foreign owners to control the company by selling Philippine Depositary Receipts to them, and offering KBO as an entirely new TV channel. 

The network refutes Calida’s claim, saying it did not violate the law. The court asks ABS-CBN to respond to the points raised in 10 days.

Media groups denounce the petition as a direct attack on freedom of speech and of the press.

February 12, 2020: Committee Vice Chairman Isabela Rep. Antonio Albano Jr. apologizes to the estimated 11,000 workers of ABS-CBN for delays in discussing the franchise renewal. He says the pending measures are already being discussed among solons behind closed doors.

Cayetano vows that the House will be “impartial” in tackling ABS-CBN’s franchise. 

The House committee tackling the measure still has no scheduled hearings on the bills as of Thursday, February 13.

February 18, 2020: Calida asks the Supreme Court to issue a gag order to stop ABS-CBN and its representatives from discussing the quo warranto case which he filed against the network.

In his "very urgent motion," he asks the high court to issue the order that bans "parties and persons acting on their behalf" from releasing statements discussing the merits of his plea to forfeit ABS-CBN's existing franchise. He said this violates the sub judice rule, which prohibits anyone from publicly assessing an ongoing case to avoid pre-judgment.

ABS-CBN Corporation and ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc. were given up to five days from receipt of the new petition to submit their response to the gag order plea.

February 20, 2020: ABS-CBN CEO and president Carlo Katigbak admits the media company's shortcomings and vows to correct them.

February 24, 2020: Guevarra tells the Senate Committee on Public Services that the National Telecommunications Commission can give a provisional authority for ABS-CBN to continue operating. He added that based on "equity," the network should be allowed to stay on air even when its franchise expires on May 4, 2020.

February 26, 2020: The House of Representatives writes to the NTC asking to issue the network a provisional permit so that it can continue broadcasting pending the passage of a bill renewing its franchise.

In a speech, President Rodrigo Duterte accepts Katigbak's apology. He tells the network to just donate the ₱2.6 million the network owed him in political ad refunds to charity.

March 5, 2020: Lawyer Larry Gadon files a “writ of prohibition," asking the Supreme Court to stop efforts of House members authoritizing NTC to issue a provisional permit for ABS-CBN's continued operations.

March 10, 2020: NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba told the House Committee on Legislative Franchises that it will issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN, saying it will heed Guevarra's advice.

March 11, 2020: Congress goes on recess without passing any of the bills granting a fresh 25-year franchise to ABS-CBN.

May 3, 2020: On World Press Freedom Day, Calida tells NTC officials that they may face graft charges if they grant a provisional permit to ABS-CBN after its 25-year franchise expires, saying the network will have "no valid and existing legislative franchise" beyond May 4.

May 4, 2020: ABS-CBN’s franchise expires.  Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque says the government will implement whatever the decision of the NTC will be on the fate of the media giant.

May 5, 2020: NTC orders ABS-CBN to stop its broadcast operations due to its expired franchise, and gives a 10-day window for the media giant to explain why the regulator should not recall its occupied frequencies.