Browbeating
FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - June 23, 2020 - 12:00am

Exasperation bubbled to the surface in the last House hearing on the ABS-CBN franchise. The hearings were stretching on for too long and thin allegations were being recycled in what now appears to be a long gauntlet of congressional prerogative.

At one point, late in the last hearing, Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza seized his opportunity to speak to request resource persons for the media network to complete their explanations to earlier questions. Legislators who did not seem interested in what they had to say rudely interrupted their explanations.

Atienza described the behavior of his colleagues toward resource persons as “browbeating.” One congressman immediately rose to have the term removed from the record, describing it as “unparliamentary.”

The powerful congressman had his way. But the incident will likely alter the tone of these prolonged public hearings that served as a podium for a block of congressmen perceived to be closely allied with House Speaker Alan Cayetano.

Atienza, although in the minority, is a respected voice in the chamber. He was a Liberal Party stalwart in the pre-martial law period. During the period of dictatorship, he was an irrepressible voice for democratic opposition. He served three terms as mayor of Manila and now sits as a party-list representative.

In a word, he lived through the period when the media giant was basically appropriated by the dictatorship and returned to its rightful owners after the 1986 democratic revolution.  He was not about to sit quietly and watch as some of his congressional colleagues now attempt a rewriting of history.

The franchise hearings saw claims being made that the media network was improperly returned to its owners and that the influential family that owned the network has received a 150-year franchise in the late sixties. These alongside issues regarding the actual nationality of Gabby Lopez and the constitutionality of the Philippine Depositary Receipts the holding company had issued to help capitalize the media enterprise.

The matters tackled at the franchise hearing are a mixed bag of valid concerns and contrived accusations. While most of these issues might be validly raised and publicly discussed, the hearings themselves have become a long and repetitive exercise. There are moments when the proceedings resembled more a fishing expedition or an inquisition than a genuine effort to assess the public interest at stake in the franchise application.

There is clearly a political play in motion in these hearings. What that political play exactly is, Atienza is not prepared to speculate upon.

But the public listening in on these deliberations should be spared the intrigue and the needless nitpicking. The committee on congressional franchises, and the House of Representatives, do not need to try too hard to find some sort of misdemeanor here.

Congress, as elected representatives of the people, has full power to grant or deny franchises over the use of scarce public resources. In the case of the ABS-CBN franchise application now at bar, the legislators need not go to any great extent to grant or deny the application on the ground of “public interest.”

But they will need to take the high ground of statesmanship as well as the political conviction to do so.

Reprieve

We might not have thanked Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa enough for the kindness he has shown imprisoned Filipino workers.

The King pardoned several prisoners after receiving a personal appeal on their behalf by President Rodrigo Duterte. Among those pardoned is Roderick Aguinaldo who was convicted for the death of a Pakistani national in the Gulf kingdom.

The path to Aguinaldo’s pardon began when he texted his mother last year, providing her Sen. Bong Go’s phone number. He was on death row and had very nearly given up on his fate.

His mother took the chance and gave Sen. Go a call sometime mid-2018. She was surprised that not only did Go take the call himself, the busy senator offered to meet with her to discuss her son’s case. Convinced the imprisoned OFW was truly remorseful for what had happened, Go agreed to help in winning a pardon for him.

With the President expressing interest in the case, Filipino diplomats went to work. Our special envoy to the Gulf Cooperation Council Amable Aguiluz V led the effort, assisted by the DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Welfare Affairs Sarah Arriola. The Philippine embassy in Manama made the necessary representations with the Kingdom of Bahrain.

The team effort was successful. The condemned Filipinos received a royal pardon. Aguinaldo, who received a second lease on life, arrived home June 7 in time to celebrate Father’s Day with his children.

The redeemed migrant worker was effusive in his gratitude to all those who helped him win a second lease on life. He promised to work harder to be worthy of redemption he won.

Sen. Go did not neglect sending the rescued OFW a text message to greet him a happy Father’s Day, reminding him to take care of his children and build a better future for them. In addition to pressing for a pardon, Go helped find a job for Aguinaldo’s wife and scholarships for his children.

This case, says Go, underscores the need to establish a distinct executive department dedicated solely to looking after the welfare of our migrant workers. Even as they send in about P30 billion a year in remittances, our migrant workers often find themselves without support when they run into difficult situations abroad.

Go is the principal sponsor of Senate Bill No. 22 that seeks to establish a full-scale department to look after our migrant workers.

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