Sotto 'doubts' constitutionality of people's initiative to grant ABS-CBN franchise

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 13 2020 06:32 PM

ABS-CBN employees and supporters hold a noise barrage outside the network's headquarters along Sgt. Esguerra Avenue in Quezon City on Sunday to protest the denial of ABS-CBN’s application for a new franchise, July 12, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday doubted the constitutionality of a push to grant ABS-CBN a new broadcast franchise through a people's initiative.

Talks of the alternative track started from a lawyer's social media post after the House legislative franchises committee voted last Friday to deny ABS-CBN a new 25-year franchise.

"I doubt if it's possible," Sotto told reporters in a text message.

"A private bill is mandated by the Constitution to be exclusively under the House of Representatives," he said.

"The proponents should first check the Constitution... If it is possible, I'll sign," the Senate leader said.

AVAILABLE REMEDY

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said that the people's initiative for ABS-CBN's franchise is "an available remedy."

"The Constitution and the law do not exclude the enactment of a franchise and does not make any distinction on the kind of law that can be enacted directly by the people," he said.

"Where the law does not distinguish, we should not distinguish," added the former Justice secretary.

But Sotto said that it is also "doubtful" if the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has funds to verify all signatures in the initiative, and hold a plebiscite for the move.

Under the law, at least 10 percent of the total voting population or 6.5 million voters must sign a petition in favor of giving ABS-CBN a new franchise.

Under the process, the Comelec is tasked to "verify the gathered signatures," and to "determine the sufficiency of the number of signatures gathered."

Should the number of signatures suffice, the election commission will then "schedule and conduct a plebiscite" where all voters can decide whether or not ABS-CBN should be given a new franchise.

The Comelec has declined to comment on the issue as it "is still largely speculative," the agency's spokesperson James Jimenez told reporters in a text message.

"The Comelec will refrain from issuing any statement on the matter... both as to whether it will actually be carried out and as to whether it is an appropriate course of action to take in this case," he said.

Drilon said the executive branch can question the constitutionality of the matter before the Supreme Court to "delay the people's initiative."

A recent SWS survey showed that 3 out of 4 Filipinos believe that ABS-CBN's franchise should have been renewed.

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