People power for press freedom
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - February 24, 2020 - 12:00am

From April to August last year, President Rodrigo Duterte had signed franchise laws granted by the 17th Congress on ten radio and television stations extending them for 25 years. Of the ten companies, six were broadcasting stations that were allowed to construct, install, establish, operate, and maintain radio and television stations in the country.

But as of October last year, The STAR counted as many as 17 bills that President Duterte allowed to lapse into law out of 170 the total of legislative measures enacted during the last five months of the 17th Congress. The Chief Executive chose not to sign franchise bills for the 16 broadcasting and telecommunications entities and just let them lapsed into law.

If the enrolled bill is not signed – as approved into law – or vetoed within 30 days from its submission to the Office of the President, the Congress-approved legislation will effectively lapse into law as mandated under our country’s 1987 Constitution.

 The TV5 and CBCP Network automatically got their franchises renewed last year after their respective bills lapsed into laws in April. The laws that covered the renewal of TV5 and CBCP were released by Malacañang without the signature of the President only in July of the same year. The two Congress-approved bills merely bore the official stamp of the Office of the President certifying each has lapsed into law.

No explanation was given by Malacañang as to why the President didn’t sign the bills and let it lapsed into law.

The President’s explanation is not mandatory though. For a vetoed Congress-approved legislation, however, normally an explanation why the President rejected it is attached to the enrolled bill.

Unfortunately for ABS-CBN, its franchise bill remains pending before the 18th Congress. Actually, the Kapamilya network’s franchise renewal bill has been stalled since 2016 when this was first filed in the 17th Congress. Its rival network GMA 7 also had a franchise renewal bill that got signed into on the next year.

On July 23, 2019, Nueva Ecija 2nd District Rep. Micaela Violago refiled the bill that will extend ABS-CBN’s franchise for another 25 years. There are 10 other bills authored by different Congressmen on the ABS-CBN franchise renewal pending at the House committee on public services chaired by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez.

And also, under our 1987 Constitution, all franchise bills must emanate from the House of Representatives.

The presidential pique against ABS-CBN started when the former Davao City Mayor first complained about the network’s not airing his political ad during the 2016 election campaign but did not allegedly refund the payment for the unaired TV ad.

Allegedly due to President Duterte’s public pronouncements against the Lopez-owned TV-radio-cable network, the ABS-CBN franchise bill was not acted upon during the 17th Congress composed largely of pro-administration lawmakers. Headed by then Speaker and Davao Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, chief ally of Mayor Duterte, House members were reportedly issued marching orders not to touch the ABS-CBN franchise bill.

But while President Duterte has vowed not to sign into law franchise renewal of the ABS-CBN, take note the Chief Executive has never uttered any declarative statement: “I will veto it.”

One of the ten companies that got their signed franchise bill signed into law last year by President Duterte is owned by erstwhile businessman Ramon Jacinto. A campaign supporter of the former Davao City Mayor, he was appointed as presidential adviser on telecom. Signed under Republic Act (RA) No. 11414, the franchise of the Jacinto family-owned Rajah Broadcasting Network TV-radio station will continue for another 25 years. Incidentally, Jacinto’s radio station, which runs on frequency modulation DzRJ-FM, played an important role during the 1986 People Power Revolution, or EDSA-1 for brevity’s sake.

As we mark the 34th anniversary of EDSA-1 this week, we pause to remember the heroics of the late TV personality June Keithley who used the government-sequestered RJ-FM facility from its office and tower station atop the Jacinto-owned J & T Building in Sta. Mesa, Manila and turned it into “Radyo Bandido.” Keithley repeatedly aired the taped message of the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin who prodded Filipinos to unite in “people power” and help protect the rebel soldiers inside Camps Aguinaldo and Crame along EDSA during those fateful days.

After the Marcos ouster during the EDSA-1, the Jacinto-owned companies were among the sequestered private business empires that were subsequently returned to their respective owners when the late president Corazon Aquino took office at Malacañang. And these also included the Lopez-owned companies like the Meralco, the ABS-CBN TV network etc. And the rest, as we say, is history.

Fast forward. Incumbent Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has come out publicly that they intend to pass upon the ABS-CBN franchise bill. Although the franchise of the network is ending this March 30, Cayetano was quoted saying “objectively” the Lower House could only take it up by August this year when they are able to clear the legislative mills with approval of the more priority bills.

On the other hand, Senate president Vicente Sotto III clarified the Senate committee on public services chaired by Sen. Grace Poe will conduct today their public hearing on the proposed bill on the amendments of the Public Services Law under Commonwealth Act No.146, and that ABS-CBN franchise issue falls under that concern.

Hence, Sotto explained, the Senate public hearing will not touch on the approval of franchise renewal of the ABS-CBN that is still pending at the Lower House. Neither, the Senate will commit sub judice on the quo warranto petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General two weeks ago before the Supreme Court against the alleged franchise violations of ABS-CBN.

Meanwhile, TV-movie stars and other popular personalities have been holding their own “people power” candlelight rallies for press freedom at ABS-CBN headquarters at Mother Ignacia St. in Quezon City to dramatize the importance of extending the network’s franchise bill.

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