ABS-CBN  hearing in the Senate is constitutional—Senator Drilon

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Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Sunday defended the decision of the Senate to hear the application for ABS-CBN Corporation franchise renewal still pending in the House of Representatives.

Drilon, a four-time Senate President, refuted that Monday’s hearing by the Senate Committee of Public Services, chaired by Senator Grace Poe, on the franchise of ABS-CBN is “unconstitutional.”

“We are saddened by the accusation. That is not true. There is nothing wrong and unconstitutional if we hear the franchise of ABS-CBN,” stressed Drilon.

The 25-year franchise of the broadcasting network is set to expire on March 30.

Drilon’s  statement was made in reaction and contrary to the statement of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who cited it as “unconstitutional.”

Senator  Sonny Angara  echoed the stand of Drilon that there  is no violation of the Constitution with regard to the hearing of the ABS-CBN.

Angara said Section 24 of the 1987 Constitution or what is known as the “origination clause,” provides that all private bills, such as the approval of franchises, “shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives.”

The same provision in the Constitution also includes appropriation, revenue or tariff bills, bills authorizing increase of the public debt and bills of local application.

However, Angara insisted that it has been the long-standing practice of the Senate to hear such bills while waiting for the House of Representatives to act on these and transmit them to the Senate for its concurrence.

As explained in Tolentino v. Sec. of Finance, he noted that the origination clause in the Constitution merely requires the Senate, acting as a body, to withhold any action on a private bill still pending in the House of Representatives.

The hearing by the committee is only meant to facilitate the process and in the case of the franchise of ABS-CBN, said Angara.

Angara said that in hearing the issues being raised against the network, as senators, they would already have a better grasp of the matter when the time comes.

“No action will be made in plenary until such time that the House of Representatives acts on the bill and sends it over to us,” he said.

Drilon also cited the case of Tolentino v. Secretary of Finance, which said the Constitution does not prohibit the Senate  from hearing a proposed measure “in anticipation of its receipt of the bill from the house.”

“We’ve done it for the national budget and other revenue measures. We’ve heard proposals while waiting for the House version,” said Drilon.

“The House of Representatives is aware of this practice. Since time immemorial, we have been hearing the budget simultaneously with the House of Representatives only that we do not debate on this on the floor until we receive the House version,” he emphasized.

“Our former colleagues who are now members of the lower chambers knew about this practice and they participated in hearings of this nature when they were in the Senate. They did not say it was unconstitutional then,” he said.

Cayetano, a two-term senator, accused the Senate of  violating the Constitution when they agreed to hold the hearing on the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise even as the House is yet to start its own hearing on the same issue.

Drilon said Section 24, Article VI of the Constitution states that “all appropriation, revenue or tariff bills, bills authorizing increase of the public debt, bills of local application, and private bills shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments.”

Drilon also said that the matter has been settled in the above-mentioned case wherein the Supreme Court upheld the power of Senate to file and hear local bills “so long as action by the Senate as a body is withheld pending receipt of the House bill.”

In the said case, the Supreme Court clearly stated: “What the Constitution simply means is that the initiative for filing revenue, tariff, or tax bills, bills authorizing an increase of the public debt, private bills and bills of local application must come from the House of Representatives on the theory that, elected as they are from the districts, the members of the House can be expected to be more sensitive to the local needs and problems. On the other hand, the senators, who are elected at large, are expected to approach the same problems from the national perspective. Both views are thereby made to bear on the enactment of such laws. Nor does the Constitution prohibit the filing in the Senate of a substitute bill in anticipation of its receipt of the bill from the House, so long as action by the Senate as a body is withheld pending receipt of the House bill.”

With only seven session days before the adjournment of Congress on March March 11, Drilon said taking up the franchise of ABS-CBN is made even more necessary.

Drilon also noted that the hearing should also rule on the need to extend the validity of the franchise of ABS-CBN, maintaining that the broadcasting network cannot operate without a franchise. /Stacy Ang

 

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