By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor

Senate President Vicente ‘Tito’ Sotto filed a bill last week seeking to grant a fresh 25-year franchise to operate by the country’s erstwhile largest broadcast network.

Joining Sotto is another former showbiz celebrity-turned-politician, Vilma Santos, who filed a similar bill in the House of Representatives, from where any franchise renewal must emanate.

Sotto’s Senate Bill number 1967 seeks the renewal of the network’s franchise, which expired in May of 2020.

According to the Senate President, his bill has the support of the majority of senators, with 16 other lawmakers acting as co-authors, or a total of 17 of the 24-member Senate.

Sotto said he wanted ABS-CBN to return because he was “incensed by the mediocre news programming” of TV stations now operating.

He noted that the airwaves were currently flooded with anime, soap operas, and Korean telenovelas.

He added that “healthy competition” was needed by the industry.

Sotto said his bill was actually a “smoke signal” to determine if it would draw support from the House, which could amend the bill to resolve whatever issues are brought up against SB 1967.

In the lower chamber of the bicameral Congress, Deputy Speaker Santos said she was filing a House version of the franchise renewal in light of the change of leadership that saw the ouster of former Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano in favor of current Speaker Lord Allan Velasco.

Sotto said he agreed with Santos that the new House leadership plus widespread public support would be enough to entice congressmen to grant the historic network a new lease on life.

ABS-CBN was famously the first media organization shut down when then President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972.

Fans of the Lopez family-controlled network believe chances of the renewal bills being passed are high considering the presence of a new House Speaker in place of Cayetano, who they believe worked silently to guarantee that the franchise would not be renewed.

President Rodrigo Duterte had all but guaranteed that ABS-CBN’s bid for a renewal of its franchise was doomed as he had publicly expressed his anger at the station for failing to air his ads during the presidential election of 2016. The President said those ads had been paid for.

ABS-CBN explained that most of the Duterte ads were aired, except for those which had not received the green light from the National Telecommunications Commission. The station added that the payments for the unaired ads were returned to the Duterte camp after the election.

Duterte’s running mate in 2016 was Cayetano, who lost to now Vice-president Leni Robredo.

Viewers recall that for many decades, ABS-CBN could be counted on to send a news team to cover any kind of tragedy, from typhoons to floods to earthquakes and large fires. The station was also first on the scene in covering large political developments as well as heinous crimes.

More than mere coverage, ABS-CBN would also frequently take the lead in supporting victims of tragedies with its foundation that sent medical teams and delivered relief goods, cash, and other forms of assistance.

Ironically, Sotto has long been identified with GMA-7, rival network to ABS-CBN, where his long-running noontime variety show Eat Bulaga is still airing.

For her part, Santos is not tied to either broadcast giant but has appeared in the shows aired by both networks. An old-time superstar in show business, Santos continues to act in the occasional film. In her younger days, she used to be one of the stars in a musical variety show over ABS-CBN called D’ Sensations.