MANILA - The Senate will not hold a plenary session on February 24 to give way to committee discussions on ABS-CBN's application to renew its franchise, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said Wednesday.
About 19 senators are expected to participate in the Senate Committee on Public Services hearing, Zubiri told ABS-CBN News.
"About 80 percent of senators have signified that they will be attending so we are expecting a full house in terms of the membership of the Senate to attend and question resource persons," he said.
Senators in a "mini caucus" decided to defer the session to give the committee "enough time" to tackle the issue.
Under Senate rules, committee hearings must be done before 2:50 p.m., 10 minutes before the chamber's 3 p.m. session.
"The Committee of Sen. Grace Poe will have enough time - even if she wants all the way up to the evening - to be able to propound questions on the resource persons on this franchise application," said the majority leader, who is in charge of the chamber's schedule.
"The Senate is a collegial body. We make a collective decision and that was the decision we arrived at," he said.
Poe earlier decided to tackle ABS-CBN's franchise without waiting for action from the House of Representatives. Under the law, franchise bills must emanate from the House before the Senate can decide on it since a license to operate is considered as a local bill.
The Senate can hold an inquiry provided that the panel will not produce a committee report while the House has not yet transmitted its decision on the issue, Poe said.
Several senators have backed Poe's move, saying ABS-CBN's franchise needs to be tackled it will expire on March 30, 2020, putting at stake some 11,000 jobs.
At least 11 bills seeking to renew ABS-CBN's 25-year franchise have languished in the House of Representatives since July 2019. House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano earlier said that the issue was not a priority of the chamber.
Last week, Solicitor General Jose Calida asked the Supreme Court to invalidate ABS-CBN's franchise due to alleged violations, including a ban on foreign ownership of media entities.
ABS-CBN has denied wrongdoing, saying the network has never violated laws in its 65-year service.
Calida also urged the high court to issue a gag order on parties representing the network. The court gave ABS-CBN 5 days to comment on the Solicitor General's plea.
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