Senate hearing on ABS-CBN franchise to proceed without House action: Poe

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 17 2020 02:03 PM | Updated as of Feb 17 2020 05:16 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - The Senate will proceed with its own hearing on ABS-CBN Corp's franchise without waiting for action from the House of Representatives, Sen. Grace Poe said Monday.

While a franchise bill should emanate from the House, there have been instances when both chambers of Congress would hold simultaneous hearings, said Poe, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Services.

At least 11 bills seeking to renew the broadcast franchise of ABS-CBN have been filed since July 2019, but the House has yet to tackle any of the measures. The company's current franchise expires on March 30, while Congress will adjourn mid-March.

"Kung hindi naman mapasa 'yan sa mababang kapulungan, at least dito sa Senado, naisiwalat namin ang pag-unawa namin sa isyu na ito," Poe said.

(In case the House fails to pass it, at least the issues will be heard in the Senate.)

NO DISRESPECT

The move does not intend to disrespect the House of Representatives, Poe said, noting that she has been in talks with some of her counterparts there.

"We respect Congress... That's why I respectfully delayed hearings here in the Senate, hoping they would calendar it," she said.

"My intention is not to pressure them (House) to do anything that is against their will because that is their right. But on the other hand, we expect our representatives to act on a timely manner," she said.

Poe said her team is already working on scheduling the committee hearing since the panel is also mandated to take up Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon's resolution seeking to extend ABS-CBN's franchise until 2022.

"I think that it will bring it to a better level of discussion. We will also see the track record of service for them to merit the privilege of having a franchise," she said.

If the House fails to resolve ABS-CBN's franchise issue, Poe's committee cannot proceed to file its recommendations even after tackling related measure in the Senate.

"Ang pakay dito ay ito: Higit sa prangkisa ng ABS-CBN, ang ating pinaglalaban din dito ay ang awtoridad at mandato ng lehislatura," she said.

(This is our aim: more than ABS-CBN's franchise, we are fighting for the authority and mandate of the legislature.)

SIMULTANEOUS WITH QUO WARRANTO HEARING

Last week, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court to invalidate ABS-CBN's franchise, citing several alleged violations.

The high court has since instructed the network giant to respond to the petition.

Poe said "the legislative branch is not precluded from conducting a hearing even if there are judicial proceedings."

"Ilang beses na nangyari na sabay ang hearing ng Senado sa judicial proceedings, pero hindi naman nakulong ang mga resource persons," she said.

(Hearings by the Senate and judicial proceedings have simultaneously happened a number of times, but resource persons were not detained.)

Senate President Vicente Sotto III backed Poe's assertion, saying the planned hearing will not violate the sub judice rule.

"The issue of sub judice because of the quo warranto might not be a problem as long as it is in aid of legislation," he told reporters in a separate interview.

'NO PERFECT FRANCHISE'

But it would be better for the Senate Committee on Public Services to focus on the resolution seeking to probe ABS-CBN's alleged violations, instead of tackling the franchise bill without the House's counterpart measure, the Senate President said.

"What franchise will she (Poe) be hearing if there is no franchise bill to us? Meron nag-file, pero (Some lawmakers filed, but) it does not have any legal stand at the moment unless it comes from the House," Poe said.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano earlier said that hearing the ABS-CBN's franchise bills was "not urgent," but Poe said closing the network - heavily criticized by the President - sends a worrisome message.

"Hindi ko sinasabi na (I'm not saying that) ABS-CBN is the primary source of news. It does not mean that freedom of expression is absolutely removed. But it can also send a message that somehow, in certain cases, other media outlets might be worried about their own situation," Poe said.

"Walang perpektong prangkisa. Lahat naman mayroong pagkukulang. So, timbangin natin mabuti," she said.

("There is no perfect franchise. Everyone has shortcomings. So, let's properly weigh things.)