Endless and untiring mission
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Atty. Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - July 17, 2020 - 12:00am

There is no doubt that the junking of the bill for the renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. to operate its TV station is highly questionable and extremely controversial.

First of all, said resolution denying the renewal of the network’s franchise is approved only by 70 members of the legislative franchise committee and other pertinent committees of the Lower House on the recommendation of a technical working group. Such recommendation however is clearly contrary to the facts established during the 12 hearings of said committees. The undisputed evidence shows that ABS-CBN has complied with all the laws especially concerning the Filipino ownership, the payment of taxes, the provisions on labor and employment and the terms and conditions of its franchise. On the other hand, the denial of franchise renewal is merely based on the accusations or opinions of some committee members particularly Congressmen Marcoleta, Defensor, Remulla, and Barzaga. No concrete evidence has been presented at all to back up their allegations. Obviously therefore, the 40 page recommendation of a technical working group (TWG) is baseless and unfounded.

Even worse in this connection is that the Committees’ rejection of the network’s franchise renewal is really due to the irresistible pressure from Malacanang. No less than Duterte himself admitted this in Jolo Sulu where he referred to ABS-CBN in his speech about getting rid of “oligarchy” in this country. Such admission is so deplorable because the members of the Lower House belong to the Legislative Body which is supposed to be an independent and separate branch of our government. This is indeed contrary to the principle of separation of powers. Besides, ABS-CBN or its owners are not really “oligarchs.” They do not belong to a group of businessmen using their political clout to promote their business interest. In fact they even help the poor and helpless in our society as well as the victims of calamities.

And worst of all is that such action to deny ABS-CBN of a new 25-year franchise was done only on the committee level. Only 70 members of the Lower House committees voted and the non-renewal of the franchise was merely “laid on the table.” It was never submitted for the confirmation of the whole chamber itself in the exercise of its legislative power as provided in Section 24 Article VI of the Constitution where private bills such as franchise renewal should exclusively originate from the Lower House with the Senate only proposing amendments. The entire Lower House should have convened in plenary session to approve or disapprove the resolution denying the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise. Thus more than 70 votes are definitely required to uphold the non-renewal of said franchise. Hence “due process of law” has not been observed and complied with in this case. The leaders or other members of the House of Representatives should therefore take the necessary steps to correct the process by considering and taking it up in a plenary session where majority of the entire membership of the Lower House will participate and vote.

Nevertheless, assuming that the committees’ action of “laying on the table” the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise is procedurally correct, or even if the Lower House itself in plenary session affirm the recommendation to deny a fresh 25-year franchise to the network, 75% of Filipinos still believe that such action is unfair and unjust and a transgression of press freedom. Hence, pursuant to the underlying principles of a democratic and republican state where “sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them,” the 1987 Constitution has also reserved to the people the legislative power through a system of initiative and referendum whereby “the people can directly enact laws or approve or reject any act or law or part thereof passed by the Congress or Local Legislative Body.” Under this concept, the people themselves can legislate “after the registration of a petition therefor signed by at least ten per centum of the total number of registered voters of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered voters thereof” (Section 32, Article VI, 1987 Constitution).

The enabling law in this regard is Republic Act 6735 or the “Initiative and Referendum Law.” With the passage of this law therefore the people themselves can enact a law granting ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. a new 25-year TV franchise. So if 75% of our countrymen believe that the action of the Lower House is unfair, unjust and unfounded, they should support the petition under  the People’s initiative which has already been registered and circulating for the purpose of garnering the number of signatures required by the Constitution and R.A. 6735.

It is indeed quite reassuring and encouraging especially to the 11,000 employees of the network that there is still hope; that they will still have a means of livelihood that will sustain and support them and their families. Personally, I am also quite delighted and encouraged that all is not lost for ABS-CBN to continue its seemingly endless mission to untiringly serve the Filipino people. Indeed ABS-CBN has given me the opportunity to serve our countrymen by informing them and helping them understand the laws of the land through our TV program Kapag Nasa Katwiran, Ipaglaban Mo, a legal drama anthology depicting final decisions of the Supreme Court regarding the facts of cases and the laws applicable thereto. Aside from this TV program, ABS CBN has likewise enabled us to give legal advice to our fellow Filipinos at least once a week at its Tulong Center located in their compound. Such opportunities are indeed an important aspect of public service because “Ignorantia legis neminem excusam,” Ignorance of the Law excuses no one from compliance therewith.”

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Email: js0711192@gmail.com

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