MANILA - Philippine lawmakers who support the granting of a fresh broadcast license to ABS-CBN Corp urged the House of Representatives on Monday to start tackling the company's franchise bills following the filing of a quo warranto petition by the government's top lawyer.
"At this point in time, I believe we should start hearing kasi nga, I think, siguro, naiinip na yung executive department because we have been dilly dallying with the hearings of the bills that have been filed already," Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel said in an interview.
A partymate of Duterte, Pimentel authored House Bill 5608, one of the 10 proposed laws that seek to give ABS-CBN Corp another 25-year broadcast franchise after the current one expires at the end of March. Congress is set to adjourn sometime in the middle of that month.
The House Committee on Legislative Franchises, headed by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, has yet to schedule any of the bills for hearing.
The Surigao del Sur solon described the quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN filed earlier in the day by Solicitor General Jose Calida as "alarming and questionable," noting that "it is within the power of Congress to grant franchise and to cancel."
"In this case, in effect, the action of Solicitor General Calida... usurps the power of Congress in granting and cancelling the franchises. It is now encroaching upon the powers of Congress," Pimentel said.
Pimentel's views were echoed by other House members who also sponsored measures in favor of an ABS-CBN franchise.
They include Deputy Speaker Vilma Santos-Recto, author of House Bill 4305; Deputy Speaker Rosemarie Arenas, author of HB 3521; Mindoro Or. Rep. Doy Leachon, author of HB 5608; Laguna Rep. Sol Aragones, author of HB 3947; Paranaque City Rep. Joy Myra Tambunting, author of HB 3713; Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, who co-authored HB 676; and Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, author of HB 5705.
"With around 11 principal authors, as well as a number of co-authors pushing for the renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN, I’m confident that there is still time to sufficiently hear and pass it before Congress adjourns," Aragones said.
"It’s important to take into consideration the 11,000 employees of ABS-CBN and their families as well as the public who patronizes the network,” she said.
Salceda said, “Ginagawa kaming kindergarten sa pag-file ng kasong ito, kasi (We are treated like Kindergartens in filing this case, because) it is an exuberant intervention into the duty of Congress as stated in the Constitution."
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman noted that 81 lawmakers have already signed House Resolution 639, which he initiated, asking the franchise committee to submit the bills to the full House for full deliberation.
Pimentel fears the Calida complaint preempts congressional action on the franchise, and may even weaken congressional support because nobody thinks the Solicitor General acted independently.
"We’re very sure that this action of his has a tacit approval from the higher ups. So, heto ngayon (now), we are now preempting the action of congress with this development," Pimentel said.
"We know very well also that the quo warranto that was filed against (Supreme Court) Chief Justice Sereno had also a clearance from the higher ups. It will have a chilling effect on some of the representatives who will be attending the hearing," he added.
The Office of the Solicitor General was behind the quo warranto petition that led to the ouster of Sereno as chief justice in 2018.
Pimentel said Calida's move just shows how much the executive does not want ABS-CBN to get a franchise, and hopes the Supreme Court will dismiss the quo warrant case.
He stressed all allegations against ABS-CBN must be proven, and the network's side must be heard.
Lagman said the question of facts in the Calida petition should be addressed to a trial court, and not the Supreme Court.
Pimentel hopes the fate of the employees and workers of ABS-CBN can be considered.
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