Senators debate separation of powers as ABS-CBN franchise hearing starts

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 24 2020 10:20 AM | Updated as of Feb 24 2020 11:29 AM

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MANILA -- (UPDATE 4) Senator Grace Poe on Monday proceeded with a hearing on ABS-CBN Corp's franchise, assuring an administration ally that the inquiry did not violate separation of powers among branches of government.

The House of Representatives, where franchise bills originate before they are transmitted to the Senate, has yet to act on several measures seeking a fresh 25-year license for ABS-CBN. The Solicitor General also questioned the license before the Supreme Court citing violations.

Monday's hearing tacked two resolutions: one on ABS-CBN's compliance with its current franchise which will expire in March, and another on extending the network’s license until December 31, 2022 to give Congress more time to deliberate on its renewal application.

"Madaming gustong pumigil sa pagdinig na ito o kinukuwestiyon ang pagdinig na ito. Naninidigan ang Senado sa kapangyarihan nito bilang kapantay na sangay ng gobyerno... Sa isang republika at demokrasya, kailangan natin panatilihin ang balance at separation of powers," Poe said.

(Many want to stop this hearing or are questioning this hearing. The Senate stands by its authority as a co-equal branch of government... In a republic and a democracy, we need to maintain balance and separation of powers.)

"We need to know the truth and we need the public to hear it," she said.

Sen. Francis Tolentino asked the panel if the hearing should continue since the Supreme Court "has already assumed jurisdiction of the quo warranto case filed by the Solicitor General.”

"Hindi po ba kaya tayo ay sasalungat sa prinsipyo ng sub judice at separation of powers?" Tolentino asked.

(Are we not violating the principle of sub-judice and separation of powers?)

Poe said the public should "have more confidence" in the Supreme Court, saying its justices could not be easily swayed by public opinion.

"Let us also trust that they have good judgement that when there are discussions and they hear it, they will not forego with the law and replace it with popular opinion," she said.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano earlier said the Senate would violate the Constitution should it hear ABS-CBN's franchise without action from the House of Representatives.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said the Senate panel "may listen to complaints of possible violation of any franchise" provided that the hearing would be in aid of legislation.

"I did not refer the ABS-CBN franchise to your committee. It is still pending in the Committee of Rules. Only resolutions seeking to probe the franchise was referred to your committee," Zubiri told Poe.

"Under your oversight function, madam chair, you can hold this hearing," he said.

Senate Minority leader Franklin Drilon cited a 25-year old Supreme Court ruling that said the Senate could tackle bills simultaneously with the House of Representatives.

“The Supreme Court squarely ruled that there is nothing in the Constitution prohibits the filing of counterpart bills in the Senate as long as the filing of a committee report in the body is withheld,” Drilon said.

Hearing the franchise bill simultaneously with the House would make proceedings "faster," Poe said.

Cayetano earlier said hearing ABS-CBN’s franchise bills is “not urgent,” noting that the House Committee on Legislative Franchises may tackle pending measures either in May or after the President’s State of the Nation Address in July.

ABS-CBN's franchise will expire on March 30, 2020.

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