Espinoza: Not barred by the Constitution?

Free Zone

THOSE wishing for the closure of ABS-CBN were somehow frustrated since the Senate public services committee chaired by Sen. Grace Poe proceeded on Monday with the hearing on the issues that hounded ABS-CBN, one of the country’s largest TV networks, despite the constitutional issue being raised by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano that franchise bills should originate from the House of Representatives.

The Lower House, where all bills come from, including franchises for utilities, before they are transmitted to the Senate, is yet to act on several bills sponsored by some congressmen seeking ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal for another 25 years. Cayetano said there are more important measures that they have to tackle than ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal.

Senator Poe, in her opening statement, assured the allies of President Rodrigo Duterte in the Senate that the inquiry on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal does not violate the principle on the separation of powers among the three branches of government, the Judiciary, Executive and Legislative.

To recall, before Congress could tackle the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN, Solicitor Gen. Jose Calida filed a petition for quo warranto before the Supreme Court to block the renewal of the network’s franchise, which is expiring in May 2020 not March 2020, according to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra during the Senate committee hearing.

Critics of the administration believe that Calida filed the petition for quo warranto in obedience to the desire of the President to block the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN in retaliation for not airing his political ads during the 2016 presidential polls wherein he handily won. Malacañang, however, denies such attribution.

Sen. Francis Tolentino before the start of the hearing raised the issue of “sub judice” on the point that the Supreme Court already assumed jurisdiction over the quo warranto petition that Solicitor General Calida filed. But Senator Poe said the public should have more confidence in the Supreme Court since the justices could not easily be swayed by public opinion.

The Senate stands by its authority as a co-equal branch of government. In a republic and democracy, we need to maintain balance and separation of powers, Poe said. “We need to know the truth and we need the public to hear it,” she said. Poe has the support of some senators. Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri said the Senate panel may listen to complaints of possible violation of any franchise provided that the hearing would be in aid of legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also cited a jurisprudence that states the Constitution does not prohibit the Senate from filing counterpart bills as long as the filing of the committee report in the body is withheld.

The Senate committee on public services tackled two resolutions: 1) On ABS-CBN’s compliance with its expiring franchise; and 2) on extending its license until December 2022 to give Congress more time to deliberate on its application for renewal. Poe added that the hearing of the franchise bill simultaneously with the House would make the proceedings faster.

Secretary Guevarra told the Senate committee during the hearing that Congress may authorize the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), an office under the Executive Department, through a resolution to give ABS-CBN the provisional permit to continue operating after the lapse of its franchise. He clarified that the franchise will expire on May 4, 2020 and not March 30, 2020.

NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba during the hearing agreed that Congress can give the go signal for the NTC to issue a provisional authority for ABS-CBN. But Cordoba said the commission can withdraw it if there are violations of the conditions.


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