House to begin hearings on ABS-CBN franchise next week

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 20)— The House of Representatives will begin tackling next week measures seeking to grant a fresh 25-year franchise to media giant ABS-CBN, lawmakers from the lower chamber said.

The House Committee on Legislative Franchises set its first discussion on the franchise proposals for Tuesday, May 26. The hearing will be held via video conferencing application Zoom.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, in a separate statement, said the panel will "most likely" hold two to three hearings a week. Some resource persons and witnesses may also be required to "physically appear" before Congress, provided that physical distancing and other health protocols will be observed.

The House leader said the committee will tackle “no more than 10 issues” in relation to ABS-CBN’s franchise bid, including the network’s supposed tax violations as well as ownership and foreign citizenship issues, among others. The media company has debunked these allegations.

Cayetano added that the House, following the series of intensive discussions, would be "ready to decide" on the proposals by August.

“I foresee that the hearings would not go beyond July, and by August, after President Duterte’s SONA (State of the Nation Address), we should be ready to decide,” Cayetano said.

The House leadership on Tuesday decided not to push through with the measure seeking a five-month provisional permit for ABS-CBN, and instead directed the committee to go straight in tackling the fresh franchise proposals.

The move to drop the bill came after the House recalled its passage on second reading, after some lawmakers raised that the process may be in violation of the Constitution.

Calls for the resumption of hearings on ABS-CBN's franchise surfaced following the National Telecommunications Commission's controversial cease and desist order which led to ABS-CBN's shutdown on May 5.

Numerous bills granting a fresh license for the company to air on radio and free TV have been filed before the lower chamber since November 2016, but Cayetano earlier this year said lawmakers were “too busy” with more urgent measures.

READ: Cayetano on calls for ABS-CBN franchise discussions: 'Hearing does not mean automatic renewal'

Cayetano said he hopes the new development would be a "good compromise" for concerned parties.