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Cayetano says Congress can't be rushed into discussing ABS-CBN's franchise

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the House of Representatives could not be hurried into deliberating on ABS-CBN's franchise extension, even as he assured that the network's application would be reviewed by lawmakers.

The legislative franchise, which is renewable for another 25 years under existing laws, grants the network the right to operate television and radio broadcasting stations in the Philippines through microwave, satellite or whatever means, including the use of technologies in television and radio systems.

Over a dozen bills for its renewal have been pending before the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, but it has yet to conduct a hearing this year.

"While we understand that there are certain interests who want to rush this process, we stand by the leadership of the 18th Congress and the Committee on Legislative Fanchises on how to prioritize urgent and important legislation," Cayetano said in a Facebook post.

"We also commit that the 18th Congress shall study this issue from all aspects in order to protect the interest of the public," he added.

On Tuesday, the House adjourned session just five minutes after opening it purportedly due to lack of attendees.  Several lawmakers took the floor on Monday to demand that Congress deliberate on the franchise renewal.

On Monday, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition against the network for the forfeiture of its franchise citing several violations of various laws, a move seen by some quarters an encroachment on the functions of Congress and threats to press freedom.

President Rodrigo Duterte did not mince words on his desire to shut down the network, accusing it “swindling” him for not airing his paid political advertisements during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Defending the move of the Solicitor General, Cayetano said the ABS-CBN franchise issue, "stripped of the inflammatory rhetoric, simply boils down to whether or not the government, through Congress, should continue to grant a private corporation the privilege to do business using government owned airwaves."

"This constitutional duty of Congress does not preclude other branches of government to do as it sees fit with regard to this matter. But neither should it divest Congress of its powers nor will their actions stop us from doing what we must do," Cayetano said.

He added that consistent with the Duterte administration’s stand on the protection of the freedom of expression, "Congress is committed to conduct an impartial hearing where those who are against or in favor of the renewal may make their case."

"The franchise renewal of ABS-CBN is among those issues that we have been carefully studying from day one of the 18th Congress," the House leader said.

Cayetano said that under the Duterte administration, Congress, as well as a number of institutions, "have had to take a long hard look at itself."

"Maybe the media, especially ABS-CBN, should also take this critical time for soul-searching on how we have all reached this point, on what reforms are needed and how to best serve GOD and the Filipino People," he said. —LDF, GMA News