House recalls passage of provisional franchise bill for ABS-CBN

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 18) — The House of Representatives has recalled the approval on second reading of a bill granting ABS-CBN a provisional franchise until October this year as some members said it was unconstitutional.

Deputy Majority Leader Wilter Wee Palma proposed the move on Monday, arguing that some lawmakers also wanted to debate the issue further.

The lower house convened as a Committee of the Whole and the plenary passed the measure on second reading last Wednesday. Some lawmakers, however, noted that this could be unconstitutional as the charter requires that bills be passed after three readings on separate days.

“No amount of purported or actual passage of some bills in the past on first and second readings on the same day will constitute an unassailable precedent in violation of the Constitution,” Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman said.

But the sponsor of the bill, Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte, insisted that there was nothing wrong with the initial passage of the bill, saying that that approval of the measure on second reading was a “prerogative” of the chamber.

He also cited previous bills that had been passed on first and second reading on the same day.

“It does not mean that [if] we are reverting to second reading that we believe that we have made a constitutional defect,” Villafuerte stressed.

ABS-CBN is banking on the grant of a provisional franchise, citing the push for it in Congress as among the reasons why the National Telecommunications Commission should not recall its assigned frequencies.

“The grant of a legislative franchise to ABS-CBN is forthcoming,” the company said in its 14-page answer to the NTC. “The recall of the assigned frequencies would thus be a useless and costly exercise, in contravention of the intent and desire of Congress.”

But Villafuerte could not directly answer when pressed by fellow lawmakers as to when the provisional franchise bill could pass their chamber.

Once the measure is passed on second and third readings, the House-approved bill would be sent to the Senate for its consideration. The Senate Public Services Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the proposed law on Tuesday.

ABS-CBN was forced to shut down on May 5 to comply with a cease and desist order from the NTC as its franchise had expired on May 4.

The media giant has since appealed to the Supreme Court to temporarily stop the implementation of the NTC order, citing income losses ranging from ₱30 million to ₱35 million every day that it is off the air as well as possible loss of job for its 11,000 workers.

ABS-CBN Corporation’s shares slid 7.2 percent after it resumed trading almost two weeks after the shutdown.

The NTC had earlier committed before the House Legislative Franchises Committee to issue the media giant a provisional authority to operate pending the grant of a new 25-year legislative franchise.

However, the regulatory body walked back on this commitment after the Office of the Solicitor General threatened to file graft charges against NTC commissioners if they granted ABS-CBN a provisional permit.

Media groups have condemned the NTC order, saying it was an affront to freedom of speech in a democracy.