Senators start working to extend franchise of ABS-CBN

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Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has  filed a concurrent resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that ABS-CBN Corporation should continue to operate pending the final determination of the renewal of its franchise by the 18th Congress.

Drilon, in his  Concurrent Resolution 6, said with only eight session days remaining before Congress goes on a break starting March 13 and resume session on May 4 and the franchise of the television network set to expire on the same day, the Senate and House need additional time to discuss the television network’s renewal of franchise.

“Both the Senate and the House of Representatives need additional time to review and determine whether or not ABS-CBN Corporation shall be granted the renewal of its franchise,” Drilon  said.

Drilon said the Department of Justice (DOJ) had issued a legal  opinion that the grant of franchise is an exercise of sovereign power and under the 1987 Constitution, that power is vested in Congress.

He said by necessary implication, such power of Congress also includes the power to prescribe the rights of the franchisee-applicant pending final determination of the renewal of the network’s franchise by Congress.

“It is therefore respectfully submitted that the Congress, by concurrent resolution, may authorize the National Telecommunications Commission to issue a provisional authority, subject to terms and conditions, to ABS-CBN and other entities similarly situated, authorizing them to continue operating subject to Congress’ eventual disposition of the renewal applications,” he said.

Bills seeking ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal have yet to be discussed at the House.

ABS-CBN  is also facing a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida.

In his petition, Calida had alleged “highly abusive practices” on the part of ABS-CBN, including operating a pay-per-view channel supposedly without a permit from the government and issuing Philippine Depositary Receipts to foreigners.

Also on Wednesday, a labor group urged the high court to rule in favor of ABS-CBN’s 11,000 workers as the network faces a petition seeking the forfeiture of its soon-to-expire franchise.

As the justices meet for their regular en banc session, Defend Job Philippines said the court must uphold the jobs of the broadcast company’s employees, “safeguard free press and the Filipino people’s right to know and of information.”

The Supreme Court has set the resumption of deliberations on the quo warranto petition for March 10, to extend the justices’ lead time.

“This is to give the justices time to go over the pleadings submitted by the parties, including the comments recently filed by the respondents,” court spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka said.

Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., for his part, filed a bill seeking to extend ABS-CBN’s franchise until December 31, 2020 to “give Congress more time” to finish debates on whether the media company’s license to operate should be extended.

Ten months will be enough for Congress to finally resolve the issue, Revilla said in Senate Bill No. 1374.

“Kaya tayo nagfile ng bill.. to give time for Congress to finish our job na hindi nanganganib ang trabaho ng mahigit sa 11,000 na manggagawa,” Revilla said.

Senator Manny Pacquiao, on the other hand, appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to think of the ABS-CBN workers if the company closes.

Pacquiao  extended the same plea to his partymates at the House of Representatives as he asked them to start conducting hearings on bills seeking to grant ABS-CBN a fresh 25-year franchise.

In the House of Representatives,  Albay Representative Edcel Lagman on Wednesday reiterated his call to his fellow lawmakers to deliberate on and approve the pending bills seeking the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise instead of merely extending it through a joint resolution.

Lagman made the remark after Cebu City Representative Raul Del Mar filed a joint resolution extending the franchise of the TV network until the end of the 18th Congress on June 30, 2022.

“Why go through the circuitous process of approving a joint resolution of dubious constitutionality or a concurrent resolution of lesser import extending the franchise of ABS-CBN Corporation for a temporary and short period when its franchise can be renewed for another 25 years by congressional legislation which is the invariable and legal process?” Lagman said in a statement.

According to Lagman, a concurrent resolution expresses the sense of the two houses of Congress on a particular issue but does not have the force of a law.  A joint resolution, meanwhile, needs the approval of both the House and Senate and the signature of the President and has the “force and effect of a law.”

But Lagman pointed out that if the President does not sign the joint resolution, Congress cannot override it as only the bills that are vetoed by the chief executive can become a law when overridden by two-thirds of the members of the House and the Senate.

He added that the joint resolution extending the ABS-CBN franchise until 2022 is an amendment to RA 7966 granting the franchise in the first place, and “no joint resolution can constitutionally amend” such law.

“Why create a legal problem by passing a projected joint resolution which has no constitutional efficacy when the renewal ABS-CBN’s franchise can be expeditiously and decisively resolved by the House of Representatives with the concurrence of the Senate where a majority of the Senators are reportedly in favor of the renewal?” Lagman said.

Currently, there are 11 bills filed at the House of Representatives seeking to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN.

On Monday, Committee on Legislative Franchises chair Franz Alvarez announced the panel is now open to accepting position papers for or against the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise, signalling the start of the proceedings of the chamber on the matter.

He said that once all positions papers have been taken into consideration, the panel can formally start deliberating on the ABS-CBN franchise renewal bills. This, however, could take place either in May or in August, after President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address./Stacy Ang

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