Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the House is likely to delay hearings on ABS-CBN’s franchise until May or August, even though President Rodrigo Duterte said he wants lawmakers to discuss the issue before the franchise expires on March 30.
In a press briefing, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the President had nothing to do with the delay in Congress or the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida seeking to revoke ABS-CBN’s franchise.
“What is important is, the President said, they should do something about it. Meaning to say, do their job. If there is a pending application before Congress, then members of Congress should deliberate on it and decide whether or not to grant or to deny the extension,” Panelo said.
There are 11 bills seeking to extend ABS-CBN’s franchise for another 25 years are pending, but Cayetano said the House would be able to tackle them only in May or the first week of August.
On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon filed a joint resolution seeking to extend ABS-CBN’s franchise until the end of 2022.
With only a few days left before Congress adjourns in mid-March, Congress needs more time to review, assess and determine whether ABS-CBN’s application for new broadcast franchise can be granted, Drilon said in the resolution.
On Thursday, Cayetano also blasted the Senate for scheduling hearings on the ABS-CBN franchise, saying that the Constitution is clear that all bills related to granting a legislative franchise should emanate from the House of Representatives.
He chided Senator Grace Poe for refusing to discuss Charter change while violating the Constitution by scheduling a hearing next week.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III acknowledged that a franchise bill should come from the House, but said he agreed to the Senate hearing because the committee would not issue any report.
Meanwhile, the National Telecommunications Commission had asked the Department of Justice for a legal opinion on whether television and entertainment giant ABS-CBN should be allowed to continue its operations even after its franchise expires on March 30.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said they received a letter from the NTC on Tuesday seeking their legal opinion.
“The main question [asked by the NTC] is whether or not ABS-CBN may continue operating after the lapse of the franchise period, pending action by the Congress on the franchise renewal bills,” Guevarra said.
Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said the NTC’s request is being evaluated by their legal staff.
Drilon on Thursday warned that Calida could go to the Supreme Court and ask it to stop ABS-CBN from broadcasting when its franchise expires in March.
This, he said, was why he filed a joint resolution to extend the franchise.
“I filed this resolution in order to give Congress time to review. It is not for ABS-CBN, it is for Congress to have time to review the very serious allegations raised by the Solicitor General in the Supreme Court, which cannot be tackled in the remaining time,” Drilon said.
“Congress has only seven session days and by the time we come back [from recess] in May, the franchise has already expired,” he said.
He also dismissed the claims of some House members thaf ABS-CBN can still operate after its franchise expires while bills seeking its extension are pending.
He cited a Supreme Court ruling which states that a franchisee can no longer operate as a broadcast station if there is no longer a franchise.
“Of course there is this view but you are taking the risk that the Supreme Court will rule otherwise as it has ruled in some cases,” Drilon said.
“I am just saying that I do not want to risk the livelihood of 11,000 ABS-CBN employees on a theory that ABS-CBN and its 11,000 workers can continue after March 30 without a franchise,” Drilon said.
“I say that if trying to save the jobs of 11,000 employees is politics, then I admit I am playing politics. I do not think that’s the motive. I think we should not attribute motives to fellow legislators,” he said.
The Senate won’t hold a session on Monday to give way to the hearing of the ABS-CBN franchise by the Senate public services committee chaired by Poe.
Drilon said the hearing is relevant while the issue on the franchise is pending in the House of Representatives.
He also said any gag order from the Supreme Court would not affect Congress.
“We are having our hearings in aid of legislation to assist us as on how to act on a particular matter in the exercise of our oversight functions. As decided by the Supreme Court, no court has the authority to prohibit the committee from requiring respondent to appear and testify before it,” Drilon said.
Former Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te, meanwhile, said Congress can intervene in the solicitor general’s quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN.
“You have a question of separation of powers. Can a solicitor general come in to question a franchise granted by Congress without even including Congress?” he said on ANC’s Early Edition.
“If Congress truly wants to assert its power to review franchises, not just of ABS-CBN, as a matter of principle perhaps Congress should intervene. They can file a case, a petition to intervene in the quo warranto case.”