Philippines Report

Duterte hands off on ABS-CBN franchise renewal, says House Speaker Cayetano

ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal

President Rodrigo Duterte is not meddling with the House of Representatives on the issue of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal, said Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano yesterday, despite the former’s public pronouncements that he would block it.

Speaking to reporters in English and Filipino, Cayetano said, “The President has never told me to grant or not grant the [franchise to ABS-CBN], and if you look at the attitude of the president…whatever the responsibility of Congress is, he leaves it to Congress. Whatever the responsibility of the Executive, he leaves it to the Executive.”

Cayetano’s defense comes after some congressmen supportive of ABS-CBN accused Duterte of influencing the House, which will finally discuss the media giant’s franchise renewal on May 26. The House gave ABS-CBN a provisional license to operate earlier this month but Cayetano withdrew it and said that lawmakers would opt to deliberate on the bills seeking to give the media giant a new, 25-year franchise.

The hearings will be open to the public, Cayetano said, and will also allow the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and Solicitor General Jose Calida to explain their actions. The NTC shut down ABS-CBN after its franchise expired, despite previously telling the House that it would grant the network a provisional license.

Calida, meanwhile, has threatened NTC officials with graft charges if they give a temporary license to broadcast to the company.

“I will be making the session hall available to make sure the witnesses who are there can practice social distancing, and there is enough space for everyone,” Cayetano said.

Duterte has said on multiple occasions that he would personally block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, alleging that the media company failed to air his campaign ads during the run-up to the 2016 elections. He also claimed that the company had broadcast reports which portrayed his government in a negative light.

Cayetano also appeared to have an ax to grind against the company, alleging that ABS-CBN interfered in the 2016 national elections.

There are currently 11 bills sitting in the House seeking to grant ABS-CBN a 25-year franchise, the earliest of which was filed in July 2019.

Meanwhile, the media company’s Chief Executive Officer Carlo Katigbak said in a Senate hearing earlier this week that ABS-CBN would be forced to lay off some of its 11,000 employees in August if it remains shuttered for the next few weeks.

“Your honor, when we’re taken off the air on May 5th, we made our commitment to our employees given the difficult economic situation following COVID-19, we made a commitment to them that we would not take away any jobs for three months,” Katigbak told the lawmakers in the session.

“We continue to lose a substantial amount of money every month your honor, and I’m afraid that if we can’t get back on air soon, by August, we may already have to consider beginning a retrenchment process,” he added.

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