By Melvin Gascon
A party-list lawmaker on Saturday denounced what he called “back-channel” talks among members of the House panel whom he accused of “sitting” on the application for renewal of the franchise of media network ABS CBN.
Buhay party-list Rep. Jose “Lito” Atienza wondered what has been keeping the House committee on legislative franchises from tackling the 11 pending bills on the ABS CBN franchise renewal, hinting that the delay was supposedly to allow “shady” deals.
“There’s a saying, ‘a fish is caught by its mouth.’ It was they (committee members) who said the measures have been stalled as there has been a lot of back channeling on the ABS CBN issue,” he said in response to queries whether he believed that corruption has crept into the issue.
“We wonder what these secret talks were about on a supposedly public interest issue,” Atienza said in a forum in Quezon City.
He was referring to pronouncements by Isabela 1st Dist. Rep. Antonio “Tonypet” Albano, the committee vice chair, to dispute allegations that the committee was sitting on the franchise renewal application.
Albano has said committee members were already having meetings, but only behind closed doors because of a lot of “back channeling.”
Atienza reiterated his call for the House leadership to set hearings for the ABS CBN license, which expires on March 30. In a privilege speech on Monday, he called out House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, citing the urgency for Congress to tackle the media network’s franchise application.
He said the non-renewal of ABS CBN’s franchise imperils the gains of EDSA People Power in ousting a dictatorship and restoring democracy and free speech in the country.
“Congress’ inaction on this matter will be considered a rejection (of the application), and inaction without explanation is unjust,” Atienza told reporters at the In Focus weekly forum.
The Buhay lawmaker also mocked pronouncements from Cayetano claiming that the ABS CBN franchise bills are “important but not urgent.”
“What kind of logic is that? If you really consider a matter as important, you attend to it with urgency,” he said.
Atienza also rebuked Cayetano’s claim that Congress has not tackled the ABS CBN franchise bills because it has been busy with many other important concerns.
“I urge the public to come visit Congress to see for themselves how many of the members do not even attend sessions; how measures are approved despite the apparent lack of quorum,” he said.
The author sought Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, franchise committee chair, but he did not respond to requests for interview, nor answer text queries sent to his mobile phone.
Data from the House of Representatives website showed that since the opening of the 18th Congress on July 1, 2019, a total of 43 bills for broadcast franchise have been filed, and have subsequently been referred to the committee of legislative franchises.
Two bills for broadcast franchise were filed on July 1, including that for ABS CBN, authored by Nueva Ecija Rep. Micaela Violago.
Ten more separate bills on ABS CBN’s franchise renewal would be lodged by lawmakers: PBA party-list Rep. Jericho Jonas Nograles; Pangasinan Rep. Rose Marie Arenas (with 34 co-authors); Parañaque City Rep. Joy Myra Tambunting (with 12 co-authors); Laguna Rep. Sol Aragones (with 12 co-authors), and Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto (with 2 co-authors);
Deputy Speakers Aurelio Gonzales and Johnny Pimentel; Cagayan De Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez; Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Sato; Bayan Muna Reps. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite and Eufemia Cullamat; ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro; Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago; and Baguio City Rep. Mark Go.
Records showed that out of 43 applications for broadcast franchise lodged before the committee, 12 bills that were filed later than the ABS CBN bill have already been approved by the House, and transmitted to the Senate.
Of the 12 bills for broadcast franchise approved, six of these listed committee chair Alvarez, as a co-author.
The House was also quick to approve four broadcast franchises, which were simultaneously filed on Sept. 12 and approved on Sept. 24 — or only after five session days.
Among the recently approved bills y the House was the 25-year franchise for Bicol Broadcasting Systems, Inc., which was filed on Nov. 13 and approved on third reading on Dec. 4, 2019 after just about nine session days. #