Solon refutes Cayetano: House can multi-task for ABS-CBN franchise

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 15) — An opposition lawmaker criticized the reasons being given by House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano for delaying discussions on the renewal of ABS-CBN's franchise.

Cayetano on Friday said the lower house is still too busy with pressing concerns, and even if it does not start deliberations soon, ABS-CBN can continue operating until March 2022. The media giant's franchise expires March 30, but Cayetano said there have been agreements between the House and the National Telecommunications Commission to allow media and utility firms to remain in business amid pending franchise renewals.

However, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the principal authors of a resolution supporting the renewal of ABS-CBN's franchise, said Congress – particularly the House Committee on Legislative Franchises – does not have too much on its table to warrant the "foot-dragging."

"The House is used to multi-tasking so much so that it could legislate on several measures within a short timeframe or almost simultaneously," Lagman said in a statement on Saturday.

He added that assuring ABS-CBN that it can still broadcast news and content until end of the 18th Congress even without a franchise is tantamount to giving it an "illusory alternative remedy."

The "legal, proper, and traditional course of action" is to decide on whether or not to grant ABS-CBN another 25 years to operate, Lagman stressed.

"The reasons proffered by Speaker Alan Cayetano for foot-dragging on the renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN are not so overriding as to sacrifice the freedoms of the press and expression for expediency," Lagman said.

ABS-CBN has another battle in the Supreme Court as Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a petition seeking to void the network's existing franchise. The government's top lawyer cited "highly abusive practices," including allowing foreign investors to "take part in the ownership of a Philippine mass media entity" as well as launching media services without prior approval from the NTC.

The quo warranto petition— lodged against ABS-CBN Corporation and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence Inc.—came weeks before the network’s existing franchise is set to expire on March 30. Several government officials— including the media company itself— denounced the move, saying it has no factual basis. Human Rights Watch Philippines also condemned the legal maneuver, saying it had "all the indications of political harassment."

READ: 'We did not violate the law,' says ABS-CBN

President Rodrigo Duterte has personally vowed to put the channel and its subsidiaries out of business, even telling its executives to just sell the company. He earlier also publicly spoke about his ire against ABS-CBN for not airing his political ads during the May 2016 elections, where he eventually won.

TIMELINE: ABS-CBN franchise

Both the House leadership and Calida stressed that their decisions on the network's francise are not motivated by politics.