Employees and supporters light candles at the gate of the ABS-CBN compound in Quezon City last May 5. | Philstar.com photo by Miguel de Guzman

THE Philippine House of Representatives on Tuesday, May 26, began its hearing on the franchise renewal of broadcast giant ABS-CBN.

During the hearing, Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez pushed for a new 25-year franchise instead of a franchise renewal for ABS-CBN.

“The 11 bills that were filed, which were on renewal, could be by the motu propio by the committee could now be converted into all a new grant because we can’t anymore talk about renewal when there’s already an expiration of the franchise,” he said.

Rodriguez on May 6 filed House Bill 6694, which seeks to grant ABS-CBN a new franchise.

The franchise should be granted in the soonest possible time so it could “continue to provide uninterrupted and improved delivery of its services to the Filipino people,” the lawmaker argued.

Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Mikey Arroyo, however, pointed out that a new franchise might affect the use of ABS-CBN’s broadcast frequencies.

“If it’s a renewal, do they still have a right to the frequencies they hold, they used to use? These are just small issues under this huge umbrella issue we have. So I believe we should have many more hearings to give an explanation to the experts of ABS-CBN’s side and the oppositors,” he said.

House Majority Leader Leyte 1st District Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez suggested that the committee file a substitute bill to incorporate the proposed measures.

Allegations vs ABS-CBN raised once again

Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta dug the allegations against ABS-CBN during the hearing, claiming that the network failed to comply with the terms and conditions of its franchise, as well as with existing laws and the country’s Constitution.

“In fact, they will show in the succeeding hearings in the committee of legislative franchises that ABS-CBN deliberately and with impunity violated the conditions of its legislative franchise, and more so of our laws and our Constitution,” he said.

“These allegations have been around for so long. They weren’t given attention. Why is that? Because people were scared of an influential network,” he added.

Marcoleta pointed out that the network’s former president, Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III was an American citizen when he took over ABS-CBN, thus violating the Constitution, which requires 100-percent Filipino ownership and management of mass media companies.

He also accused ABS-CBN of committing unfair labor practices, which consequently denied its employees the benefits required by law.

“ABS-CBN has not regularized its contractual workers and talents despite performing the functions of regular workers,” Marcoleta said.

“It is not a secret that ABS-CBN is and will be facing numerous labor cases. What makes it worse is that ABS-CBN is not giving a contribution to the benefits [it is reaping],” he added.

The Deputy speaker also brought up the use of multiple channels on ABS-CBN’s now-expired franchise as well as the network’s “tax evasion” schemes.

ABS-CBN, for its part, maintained that the network did not violate any laws.

“We agree. The law is the law. And under the law, we are innocent under proven guilty. Up to now, there is no court that has determined we have broken any laws,” said ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak during the hearing.

“The BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) said we paid our taxes. It came from the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) that it approved the PDR issued [to us]. The Department of Justice said that the KBO (Kapamilya Box Office) is not a violation of the franchise. Meanwhile, the DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) said we complied with the compliance orders from them,” he added in Filipino.

The hearing was jointly conducted by the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability and the Committee on Legislative Franchises.

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