MANILA (UPDATE) — Sen. Grace Poe on Thursday called for a legislative hearing on ABS-CBN's compliance with its franchise, which the government's chief lawyer questioned before the high court ahead of its expiry in March.
Poe, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Public Services, called for a hearing after Solicitor General Jose Calida asked the Supreme Court to revoke ABS-CBN's franchise citing several violations.
The House of Representatives franchise committee has yet to open hearings on several bills seeking its renewal.
The senator said her committee would look into ABS-CBN's "compliance with the terms and and conditions of its franchise."
Poe acknowledged ABS-CBN's public statements that it did not violate any law. At the same time, she said, under the Constitution, a franchise is "subject to amendment, alteration or repeal by the Congress when the common good so requires."
An inquiry into Calida's allegations against the network "is in order," said Senate Presidente Vicente "Tito" Sotto.
"Maganda para magkaroon din ng pagkakataon ang ABS-CBN na maeksplika, at hindi iyong kung anong naririnig lang, itong sinasabi na alleged violation na ito," he told DZMM.
(This is good so that ABS-CBN will have a chance to explain, instead of us relying on hearsay, about this alleged violation.)
Isabela 1st District Rep. Antonio Albano, vice-chair of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, said Poe has the right to hold Senate hearings on ABS-CBN's compliance with franchise rules.
He said this "does not in anyway conflict" with the House committee's "power to hear the same violations in our franchise committee."
The lawmaker said he would hold comments on the committee's eventual findings "so I can maintain my objectivity regarding the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise."
He said he would also urge his House colleagues not to make comments on the matter as the chamber is set to take up bills on the network's franchise renewal.
"The committee leaders and members have to be impartial and fair to ABS-CBN, and we will treat the merits of Sen. Poe’s investigation as additional information when she finishes her investigation in aid of legislation during our open to the public committee hearings where ABS-CBN franchise is taken up," he said in a statement.
ABS-CBN secured a 25-year franchise under Republic Act 7966, which was enacted on March 30, 1995.
Calida claimed in a quo warranto petition filed last Monday that ABS-CBN violated the constitutional ban on foreign ownership and went “beyond the scope of its legislative franchise” for “broadcasting for a fee.”
ABS-CBN, whose news and entertainment shows reach tens of millions of Filipinos online and via TV and radio, said it "did not violate the law."
Advocates said the government move was the latest attack on press freedom under President Rodrigo Duterte. His spokesman and chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, said the chief executive was not involved in the Calida petition.
Duterte taunted ABS-CBN in a speech in December, telling the owners to sell it. "ABS-CBN, your contract is about to expire. If I were you, you're better off selling it," he said.
News.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN News.