It’s a big mystery why Speaker Alan Cayetano suddenly abandoned his pet House Bill 6732 seeking to grant ABS-CBN a temporary franchise until October 2020.
But what makes his turnaround more shocking is that HB 6732, which could have enabled ABS-CBN to get back on air while its 25-year franchise is being tackled, had the backing of at least 132 members of Lower House – eight authors and 124 co-authors.
If Cayetano had mustered enough courage or independence to finish what he started, politiko sources said HB 6732 could have easily obtained another 30 votes on March 18 when they gathered in the session hall. HB 6732 needed only majority or 152 out of the 301-strong House to hurdle second reading after getting it approved on first reading on May 13.
Sources said House members were blindsided when Cayetano suddenly announced that he was no longer pushing for HB 6732 and has instead
reverted back to the traditional route of granting ABS-CBN a 25-year franchise by starting at the committee level (whose chair, Palawan Rep. FRanz Alvarez, has sat on ABS-CBN’s application for renewal since 2016).
Politiko sources said Cayetano consulted only a few members of the House leadership most of whom were supportive of ABS-CBN which has been off air since receiving a cease and desist order from the National Telecommunications Commission on May 5, a day after its franchise expired.
So whose unseen hand was behind Cayetano’s cop-out? Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman cited “a furtive and sinister outside interference” as the only reason for Cayetano reversing gears midway into his action.
One of the vocal opponents of HB 6732 is House committee on appropriations chair ACT-CIS Rep. Eric Yap, who owes his post to bis closeness to presidential son, Deputy Speaker Pulong Duterte.
Yap asked his peers why they should railroad HB 6732 when the more prudent route was to go straight in conducting a hearing on its 25-year franchise where all sides could air their support or concern against the media giant.
Yap, Duterte and Cavite Rep. Abraham Tolentino (brother of Senator Francis Tolentino) filed a resolution seeking an inquiry into ABs-CBN’s probable violations of the Lopez-owned network.
Yap’s manifestation was backstopped by Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo, the son of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who has no love lost for ABS-CBN: “As a matter of fact, we the majority, in discussions with our distinguished majority leader and the senior deputy majority leader, we are espousing a series of caucuses so that at least we can really get the consensus of the members of the House.”
HB 6732 is ABS-CBN’s best shot at going back on the air as soon as possible. As it stands, the earliest it could have its franchise approved is August 2020 which might be too late for its employees after ABS-CBN president Carlo Katigbak announced plans to layoff staff if the network stayed off air up to three months. Another concern is the possibility of losing its most coveted frequencies that the NTC could transfer to other broadcast franchises who have line up for their turn to get their signal.