House to hold first hearing on ABS-CBN franchise on March 10

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 4) — The House of Representatives will finally hold on March 10 its first hearing on broadcast giant ABS-CBN’s bid to get a fresh 25-year franchise.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano announced Wednesday that the House Committee on Legislative Franchises will tackle the 11 bills on the broadcast giant’s franchise to show to the National Telecommunications Commission that Congress is acting on ABS-CBN’s franchise and instruct it to grant provisional authority for the TV network to continue operating even after its franchise expires on May 4.

ABS-CBN’s top executives will not be invited to the hearing, Cayetano said.

He added that the hearing is also to lay down the ground rules for future hearings on ABS-CBN’s franchise and to once again call for position papers from camps for and against its renewal.

Ayaw nating maging circus. Ayaw natin po na maging bull session ang hearing, ibig sabihin lahat ng may sama ng loob sa ABS[-CBN], ‘yon ang gagawin. Ayaw din naman nating maging sipsipan forum na lahat ng magsasalita ay isa-isa lang sasabihin kung gaano kagaling, gaano kabango, gaano karaming nagawa ng ABS[-CBN],” he said.

[Translation: We don’t want it to turn into a circus. We don’t want the hearing to be a bull session, meaning all those with gripes against ABS-CBN will just air that. We also don’t want it to turn into a forum for sucking up where people would just say how great, how good and how many things ABS-CBN has done.]

Cayetano said it is likely that the second hearing on ABS-CBN’s franchise would be scheduled after Congress resumes from its seven-week break on May 4, the same day that the TV network’s franchise expires.

The Speaker made the announcement as the Senate tackled resolutions on ABS-CBN’s franchise.

TIMELINE: ABS-CBN franchise

Congress leaders insist that ABS-CBN can continue operating even after its franchise expires, citing previous cases wherein the NTC allowed TV networks with expired franchises to continue airing as long as Congress is still tackling their franchise renewal bids.

The Justice Department also found no legal impediment for the NTC to issue ABS-CBN a provisional permit, but added that communications from Congress would give this move a stronger legal standing.

A 1994 agreement between the House, the NTC, and the broadcasters group Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas also provides that the NTC "shall continue to issue and grant permits or authorizations to operate" for radio and TV stations for a two-year period as long as there is a pending bill seeking to renew its franchise.

Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, however, has said that this could no longer be done, since a 2003 Supreme Court decision, which he himself penned, had ruled that there is a need for an existing license before a corporation can operate.

This means the only way for ABS-CBN to stay on air is for Congress to finally renew its 25-year franchise; and a provisional permit from the NTC, even if allowed by Congress, would not be executory.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.