MANILA -- Former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile warned Tuesday that Congress would risk “emasculating” the constitution should it go for a temporary franchise allowing broadcast network ABS-CBN to resume its free TV and radio operations.
Enrile said the legislature should instead tackle a 25-year franchise for the shuttered network, saying there should be “permanence” in the legislative grant.
“Why can you not give a permanent franchise to ABS-CBN right away, conduct a day-and-night hearing… instead of playing with the constitution by granting a temporary franchise? he told a Senate inquiry.
“If Congress can grant a temporary franchise, what is the compelling reason for Congress not to grant a permanent franchise with a reasonable period of 25 years?”
Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Congress could decide on the length of the franchise using its “plenary powers” so long the period would not exceed the 50-year limit in the constitution.
A number of senators expressed reservations on the Senate hearing on ABS-CBN’s franchise since the House of Representatives has yet to approve its version. Under the Constitution, private bills such as the network’s franchise application must emanate from the House.
“This hearing might be premature,” said Sen. Francis Tolentino.
But Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, who presided over the inquiry as the committee’s vice chairman, said the hearing was “anticipatory.”
Enrile acknowledged Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s concern that senators might face a “constitutional challenge” in case they agreed to the House proposal of a provisional franchise for ABS-CBN.
But amending the period to cover a full 25-year franchise will be “perfectly okay,” Enrile said.
Enrile said Congress should also consider the pending case against ABS-CBN before the Supreme Court, warning it “complicates” its deliberations on franchise renewal bills.
“If the Supreme Court will decide adversely against ABS-CBN, what will happen to the legislative action of Congress granting a new franchise to ABS-CBN?” he said.