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Did fresh talks on ABS-CBN franchise split Lower House leadership? Lawmakers weigh in on franchise renewal

After Buhay partylist Rep. Lito Atienza called last year’s marathon franchise sessions a “mistrial”, other congressmen have weighed in on the ABS-CBN franchise issue.

Twelve days that led to a “mistrial”. That’s essentially how Deputy Speaker and Buhay partylist Rep. Lito Atienza described what happened to ABS-CBN Corporation’s legislative franchise back in mid-2020.

Atienza would float the idea of a reconsideration instead of going through the franchise application process anew for ABS-CBN last Tuesday, January 5.

According to Atienza, he expects ABS-CBN to get its franchise renewed this year due to his trust in House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, with the expectation that he will allow lawmakers to debate and vote freely.

He also stuck to his guns in saying he believes Malacañang had nothing to do with the franchise rejection.

Atienza’s idea to fast-track the process of renewing ABS-CBN’s franchise is to have ABS-CBN file a motion for reconsideration, which he says would be shorter than going through the entire process once more.

Atienza is one of the few lawmakers who supported ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal back in 2020, next to Deputy Speaker and Batangas 6th District Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto, who said she would re-file her bill to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise.

His statement has, of course, drawn its fair share of reactions, including one from Sagip partylist Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, staunch ABS-CBN opponent.

In a statement, Marcoleta said it will be a “long and circuitous process” before ABS-CBN gets their franchise back in 2021.

He said the network needs to go through reforms, particularly a change in management and facilities before they are allowed to operate.

This comes at the heels of Marcoleta filing a measure midway through November 2020 which essentially goes after ABS-CBN’s assets, including the entirety of the ABS-CBN compound at Mother Ignacia Street and their equipment.

Ousted House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano agreed with Marcoleta, even going as far as calling Atienza “blind” and “deaf” to the alleged violations committed by ABS-CBN.

He does, however, agree with Atienza in how ABS-CBN can simply file an appeal—but does not agree with the suggested move until the media giant addresses the so-called “violations”.

He would also warn lawmakers who are currently thinking about either filing the appeal or refiling their bills to go back to “doing investigations in aid of legislation”.

“May mga imbestigasyon na pampulitika, mayroon din in aid of re-election. Mayroon din mga (imbestigasyon) na shake-down. Ipinagbawal natin dati iyon,” he said.

He added that last year, Congress did not use their investigations to aid legislation—perhaps as a slight to those involved not just in the ABS-CBN franchise renewal but to other bills that made it through Congress.

Anaksalugan Rep. Mike Defensor, who stood with Marcoleta in denying ABS-CBN’s franchise last year, seems to have changed his tune.

He agreed with both Atienza and Cayetano, saying ABS-CBN’s franchise does stand a chance this 2021, but that they would need to implement big changes before their renewal can be considered.

He would bring up violations that they “dug up” during the course of the investigation, including a change in leadership would not be enough for him to re-instate the franchise.

Defensor also had a suggestion to lawmakers in favor of renewing ABS-CBN’s franchise.

Instead of re-filing bills, Defensor asked the original authors of each of the bills to simply withdraw the old bills and file new bills from scratch when Congress resumes its sessions on January 18.

This would fast-track ABS-CBN’s renewal as it would get rid of the hierarchy of having to tackle pending bills first before looking at new ones.

This comes from statements he and other lawmakers made last year that ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal may have been denied, but the bill “is technically still on the table”.

In a report from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the appeal route isn’t a viable option for Defensor as the House Committee on Rules “will definitely oppose it” to supposedly protect the work done by the legislative franchises committee.

Other lawmakers who opposed the ABS-CBN franchise have remained silent as of press time.

Talks of a renewed chance for the ABS-CBN franchise burst on the scene after Senate President Vicente Sotto III filed a bill that would have started the process of franchise renewal.

The 1987 Constitution, however, specifically states that any private laws should come from the House of Representatives, thus leading to a measure like that of Vilma Santos-Recto refiling an old ABS-CBN franchise bill.

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