Senate to push through with ABS-CBN franchise probe
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - February 22, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate is pushing through with its hearing on Monday to tackle the franchise renewal of TV network ABS-CBN despite the warning of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano that the legislative proceeding is unconstitutional.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III and other senators pushed back on Cayetano’s attempt to stop the proceedings of the committee on public services, chaired by Sen. Grace Poe, saying such hearings did not violate the Constitution and had been done in previous Congresses without any protest from the House.

“A committee hearing is not the Senate. A committee report becomes Senate business. Committee chairpersons are authorized to hear what their committee thinks should be heard,” Sotto told reporters.

He added that the Senate has for a long time held without any protest parallel hearings on proposed national budgets to save time while the House is also deliberating on it.

Some senators earlier criticized the House committee on legislative franchises for sitting too long on the network’s application. This, they warned, would give Congress little or no time to have the application go through the process before the franchise expires on March 30.

But Cayetano on Thursday countered by saying the Senate has been blocking House bills that seek to amend the Constitution while being eager to hear ABS-CBN’s franchise application.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan maintained that holding parallel hearings in the Senate on bills that should emanate from the House such as the proposed budget, tax bills and franchise measures is standard parliamentary practice. 

“It (parallel hearings) is certainly consistent with the law and parliamentary practice. Where’s the venue of the franchise application mandated to be? It’s supposed to be in Congress right? The Senate and the House of Representatives. So we have to give them (ABS-CBN) a venue because we’re the ones who’ll approve the franchise,” he said.

Although Sen. Panfilo Lacson believes that Cayetano has a point, he disagrees with the Speaker on “equating” the issue with the Charter change efforts of the House. 

“What can be considered as blatantly violative of the Constitution is if the committee chairperson reports out on the Senate floor for plenary debates the committee report which we have not done and will never do,” Lacson said.

Poe earlier said her move to hold the hearing has the support of the chamber as the House did not give due course to the franchise application despite its being pending since 2016.

She added that the Senate cannot just accept whatever version of the franchise bill the House may forward to senators without reviewing it, which is why a hearing is necessary.

“It’s the prerogative of the House, whether or not they will hear it. But in the case of the Senate, I think we should be able to exercise our mandate, otherwise we are not fulfilling our responsibility. That’s clear,” Poe stressed.

Admission of fault?

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo welcomed yesterday the statement of ABS-CBN president and chief executive officer Karlo Katigbak addressing concerns of viewers over the franchise issues. 

“I saw Carlo Katigbak earlier. He had a statement wherein he admitted that ‘we also have faults at times’,” he said in an interview over ANC.

Katigbak said in his statement that the network should be given a chance to be heard over the franchise and quo warranto issues.  

He added that the TV network also had its faults and that they are ready to correct these if necessary, as he stressed that the contribution it made in serving the Filipino people should also not be set aside. 

“It is better to see this young guy who knows how to admit mistakes, and (said) we will right the wrongs, not your uncle or not your father or not those who are or who were running ABS-CBN. Mabuti pa ang mga bata, may pag-asa pa ang ABS-CBN case because of them (These young people are doing better, there is hope in the ABS-CBN case because of them),” Panelo said. 

Panelo said the renewal of the franchise is left to the discretion of Congress, adding that President Duterte has neither the power nor the influence over congressmen and senators.

He maintained that Congress and the Office of the Solicitor General are acting independently on the issues about the network.  – With Christina Mendez

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