Calls on media to do 'soul-searching'
MANILA - House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Tuesday vowed fair hearings on ABS-CBN franchise bills, amid pressure from congressmen to act on the long-pending measures.
In a statement, Cayetano said the ABS-CBN franchise renewal was among matters the House "has been carefully studying from day one" of the current Congress session, even as some of his colleagues called for urgent hearings on the bill.
"Consistent with the Duterte Administration’s stand on the protection of the freedom of expression, Congress is committed to conduct an impartial hearing where those who are against or in favor of the renewal may make their case," said Cayetano.
At least 11 bills for ABS-CBN's franchise renewal remain pending in the House just about a month before Congress goes on break on March 14. Its franchise will expire on March 30.
Cayetano said that while "certain interests" want to speed up the process, the House is working alongside the chamber's panel on legislative franchises "on how to prioritize urgent and important legislation."
"We also commit that the 18th Congress shall study this issue from all aspects in order to protect the interest of the public," said the former senator, the President's defeated 2016 running mate who was later appointed foreign affairs secretary.
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said he would block the franchise renewal bid of ABS-CBN Corp, which operates free TV Channel 2 and radio DZMM.
He accused the network of allegedly failing to pay proper taxes and refusing to air some of his campaign advertisements in the 2016 presidential campaign.
On Monday, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto plea before the Supreme Court seeking to invalidate the ABS-CBN franchise, citing alleged violation of law.
Malacañang has said Duterte has nothing to do with Calida's actions.
Duterte’s chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo said Congress has the sole power to grant a franchise since the legislative body can overturn any veto of the President by a two-thirds vote of the body.
“It can be overruled. In other words, from whatever angle you look at it, it’s Congress; it’s not the President,” he said.
Under the 1987 Constitution, Congress can overturn a President’s veto if two-thirds of the respective membership of each chamber agree to pass the bill.
In his statement, Cayetano also urged the media to do some "soul-searching."
He cited how Duterte's leadership has prompted institutions, even Congress, to "take a long hard look at itself" and "reflect" on their respective roles in nation-building and reforms needed.
"Maybe the media, especially ABS-CBN, should also take this critical time for soul-searching on how we have all reached this point, on what reforms are needed and how to best serve GOD and the Filipino People," Cayetano said.
He said the House "has always been a partner of President Rodrigo Duterte in creating a safe and comfortable life for every Filipino," hence it continues to "work closely" with Malacañang.
He cited House action on priority bills of the President and urgent matters such as response to the Taal Volcano eruption, the 2019 Novel Coronavirus spread and the termination of the Philippines-United States Visiting Forces Agreement.
He said the ABS-CBN franchise renewal was among those under careful study, adding that the matter "simply boils down to whether or not the government, through Congress, should to continue to grant a private corporation the privilege to do business using government-owned airwaves."
"This constitutional duty of Congress does not preclude other branches of government to do as it sees fit with regard to this matter. But neither should it divest Congress of its powers nor will their actions stop us from doing what we must do," he said.
ABS-CBN operates free TV Channel 2 and radio DZMM, while news.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.