MANILA - One of the Deputy Speakers of the House of Representatives on Tuesday said he believes the Solicitor General and officials of the National Telecommunications Commission answering questions at the ABS-CBN franchise hearings in Congress will not jeopardize the legal cases filed against the network.
"For me, I think it will not jeopardize their case if they will be allowed to answer the questions in the committee,” Surigao del Sur (2nd District) Rep. Johnny Pimentel said of Solicitor General Jose Calida and NTC officials.
Calida told the congressional inquiry on Monday that he could not discuss his pending case against ABS-CBN before the Supreme Court, citing the sub judice rule and his push for a gag order on all parties involved. The hearings will resume Wednesday.
Calida filed a quo warranto petition in February against ABS-CBN, seeking the revocation of its previous franchise over alleged violations. The high court is yet to rule on the petition.
His office also represented the NTC in challenging ABS-CBN's petition at the SC for a temporary restraining order against the May 5, 2020 cease-and-desist order against the country's largest network. The issue also remains pending.
ABS-CBN complied with the NTC order on May 5, a day after its previous franchise expired.
Asked on ANC Headstart about the invocation by the OSG and NTC of the sub judice rule, Pimentel, who authored one of the bills seeking to grant ABS-CBN a fresh 25-year franchise, said, “That is what I find surprising, because we're implementing a double standard."
"While the OSG and the NTC invoked the sub judice rule, however, the ABS-CBN is required to answer the questions that are being raised against them."
Pimentel said that if the sub judice rule does not apply to ABS-CBN, it should not also apply to the two government agencies.
He reiterated that under the Constitution, Congress is allowed to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation.
“I don’t believe—this is only my opinion—the sub judice rule will apply because under our House Rules, even if there is a case pending on a subject matter that is being investigated, it does not prohibit the committee to conduct an inquiry," he said.
But he added that it will still be up to the committees on legislative franchises and good government to allow the two agencies to invoke the sub judice rule.
“Right now, it depends on the committee,” Pimentel said.
One of the issues raised against the network is the citizenship of ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III and his capacity to hold shares of the network. Lawmakers said Lopez will be invited to the subsequent hearing.
Pimentel said it is imperative for Lopez to attend the hearing physically or via Zoom, otherwise a show-cause order will be issued to him why he should not be cited for contempt.
“I am actually appealing to Gabby Lopez to attend the hearing because if not, there will be a big problem,” he said.
Pimentel affirmed that based on their ground rules, one issue will be tackled per hearing.
“Para hindi magulo, so that there will be a sense of orderliness that only one subject will be tackled in one hearing. After all arguments are heard—for and against in whatever discussions —then a voting will be made,” he explained.
Based on his count, there are 93 voting members after the deliberations have been completed at the committee level. They include the 46 members of the Committee on Legislative Franchises and other House leaders.
“For ABS-CBN to be granted a franchise, they would at least need 48 votes from these voting members... If I am not mistaken... 50 percent of (93) is 46.5. So it should be 50 percent plus 1— so I surmised, it would be 48 votes for ABS-CBN to again operate,” he said.
“After the committee level has been approved, then the whole Congress will vote. If ever, assuming that it has been approved on second reading, then we will vote on it for nominal voting on 3rd reading, and all 304 members of Congress will vote on it,” he continued.
Last month, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said Congress would be ready to decide on the Kapamilya network’s franchise by August.
Given the one issue per hearing scenario, Pimentel believes that the August timeline is possible.
“Yes, it is highly possible, especially if we will continue the hearings. For this week, we have another hearing for tomorrow. So, we are conducting 2 hearings per week... I suppose in two months time, I am very confident that we’ll be able to finish and we’ll go to a voting,” he said.
The committee report, he said, will justify whether they deny or grant ABS-CBN the franchise.
“At the end of the day, Congress will decide whether to deny or to grant a franchise to ABS-CBN. And that is precisely what we are doing right now. And what is good actually is that the hearings are now moving... This is now the time for both sides to present their arguments. And this is now the time also, or opportunity for ABS-CBN to answer those allegations,” Pimentel said.
ABS-CBN has said it did not violate any laws.
It said that the halt of its broadcast operations has taken a toll on its financial revenues which may compel it to consider retrenchment. The company and its subsidiaries employ around 11,000 people.
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