House panel cites overwhelming support for ABS-CBN franchise renewal

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Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin, Jr. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 27) – Bills renewing ABS-CBN's franchise have received overwhelming support, but a member of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises said hearings will seek to flesh out every allegation against the network before a decision is made.

Ako Bicol Party-list Representative Alfredo Garbin, Jr. said Wednesday that the committee has received 181 position papers supporting bills giving a fresh 25-year franchise to the media giant, against eight opposing the renewal.

Fourteen House bills seeking to renew the network's franchise are pending before the body, the earliest of which was filed in July 2019. ABS-CBN's franchise expired May 4, which was cited by the National Telecommunications Commission as basis to order the shutdown of its broadcasts a day later.

RELATED: ABS-CBN asks Supreme Court to stop shutdown order

The lawmaker said "impartial and comprehensive" discussions will be held in succeeding meetings, following the Tuesday hearing which focused on ground rules and opening statements of all parties. An accusation will be assigned as the topic of one hearing.

"In every issue, kailangang talakayin [Every issue must be tackled]... It will be ABS-CBN who will present first, at pagkatapos susundan ito ng nagkokontra naman. We will receive all the evidence, there will be appreciation of evidence, expert witness, resource persons can be invited," Garbin added.

He noted that among the issues to be taken up by the committee are questions on the citizenship of ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Gabby Lopez and the issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts or PDRs to foreign investors, which are said to be violations of media ownership rules under the 1987 Constitution.

"It is necessary to prove and defend these because these are valid issues that were raised against them before the Committee on Legislative Franchises. As to the issue on citizenship, the PDRs, and of course the alleged tax evasions of ABS-CBN, perhaps ang pinakamaganda niyan is imbitahan natin 'yung mga [the best way to resolve these is to invite] regulatory agencies or different agencies of the government who has primary jurisdiction and who can answer those issues," the congressman added, despite earlier clarifications made by the network to address these issues.

READ: ABS-CBN did not commit violations – BIR, SEC

Meanwhile, Garbin found flaws in the allegations of SAGIP Party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, who claimed that ABS-CBN violated the Constitution for operating beyond the supposed 50-year limit for franchises.

Garbin, a lawyer, said his fellow lawmaker might have had a different interpretation of the "clear and unequivocal" rule in the charter.

"For every grant of franchise, the period should not exceed 50 years. It does not mean na after 50 years of multiple grant of franchise ay hindi na mag-ooperate 'yung isang public utility or a mass media company [that a public utility or mass media company can no longer operate]," he explained.

The next hearing on the franchise bills is set on Monday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., which Garbin said was meant to exhaust concerns lodged against ABS-CBN.

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly berated ABS-CBN for unaired political ads during his 2016 campaign, even going as far as saying that he will make sure the network is out this year. His spokesman Harry Roque eventually said that Duterte is "neutral" to the franchise issue, noting that it's something lawmakers must decide on.