Sotto rejects request for senators to inhibit from ABS-CBN franchise inquiry

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 18 2020 03:10 PM | Updated as of May 18 2020 07:36 PM

Senate President Vicente Sotto III during the plenary session on May 6, 2020. Henzberg Austria, Senate PRIB

MANILA - Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday rejected a lawyer's request for 9 senators to inhibit from ABS-CBN franchise hearings over their alleged connections to the network.

Sotto was among the 9 lawmakers who were asked to inhibit as Lorenzo "Larry" Gadon alleged that the Senate President receive "fees and royalties" from the broadcast giant where his noontime show "Eat Bulaga" aired in the late 80's. The show is now airing on GMA 7.

"I am not financially interested in the business of ABS-CBN. I am not a stockholder. I am part of the Congress that is mandated by the Constitution to grant franchises. I cannot shirk from my sworn duty," Sotto told reporters in a text message.

"I suggest you listen to my interpellations before judging me," the Senate President said.

Other senators who were asked to inhibit are:
- Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, whose wife Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos was a talent of ABS-CBN
- Sen. Sonny Angara, whose wife Tootsy Angara works in ABS-CBN
- Sen. Pia Cayetano, whose late father, former Sen. Rene Cayetano, hosted a television and radio show on ABS-CBN
- Sen. Lito Lapid, who used to act on ABS-CBN's primetime show "Ang Probinsyano"
- Sen. Manny Pacquiao, whose boxing fights were aired on ABS-CBN
- Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, whose wife Sharon Cuneta is a talent of ABS-CBN
- Sen. Grace Poe, whose mother Susan Roces is part of the cast of ABS-CBN's primetime show "Ang Probinsyano"
- Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla, Jr., for allegedly receiving royalties for his movies aired on ABS-CBN

"Looking at our laws on the matter there is no need for me to inhibit because I do not have a substantial interest in the company which the law and rules define as shares sufficient to elect a director," Angara said in a separate text message.

"Neither I nor my wife is an officer of the company. She is a regular employee, thus there is no conflict of interest as set forth in our laws," he said.

Poe, who chairs the Senate Committee on Public Services which tackles franchises, has inhibited from proceedings since March.

Other senators who were asked to skip ABS-CBN-related hearings have yet to comment on the issue.

'INHIBITION CANNOT BE IMPOSED'

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Gadon's request had "absolutely no [legal] basis."

"Inhibition is a personal decision of each senator. No one can impose it, not even the Supreme Court," Drilon told reporters in a text message.

"We can only be disciplined, if their are ethical issues involved in our participation in the ABS-CBN franchise, by the Senate, and no one else," he said.

"We are answerable only to the Senate and the people."

ABS-CBN halted its broadcast operations earlier this month after the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued a cease and desist order against the media giant despite a "legislative tradition" that allows networks to operate beyond the expiration of their franchises while Congress has yet to finalize their renewal documents.

Sotto earlier said the Senate will grant ABS-CBN a fresh 25-year mandate after a February 2020 Senate hearing found that contrary to allegations, the company neither violated a Constitutional ban on foreign ownership nor did it skirt tax and broadcasting laws.

The House of Representative is expected to pass on third reading a bill that would give ABS-CBN provisional authority to operate until October 2020 to give Congress more time to deliberate on its franchise renewal bid, which has been pending in the House Committee on Legislative Franchises for years.

In March, Gadon filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to stop the House of Representatives from issuing a provisional authority for ABS-CBN. The high court has yet to rule on his petition.

Last year, ABS-CBN broke news about the Supreme Court's decision to suspend Gadon as a lawyer for 3 months over his use of “abusive and intemperate language” which “lessen the confidence of the public in the Philippine judicial system.”

ABS-CBN also reported on the once-suspended lawyer's failure to attend mandatory seminars for lawyers for 10 years.