MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte should have recanted his tirades against ABS-CBN Corp if he was really neutral on its franchise application, a lawyer said Monday as various groups mulled options to revive the network's license that Congress killed.
Duterte early in his term accused the network of failing to air his 2016 campaign ads and not returning the payments. "I will see to it that you're out," he told ABS-CBN in December.
"We've seen it in the past. When the President says something, Congress follows. I don't think there will be any deviation from that in this issue despite the loud voices coming from the people," said rights lawyer Chel Diokno.
"If the President were really neutral, he should have took back all those angry words he said about ABS-CBN and even about the franchise itself. If he just keeps quiet after having said those things, that doesn't mean he's neutral," he told ANC.
A committee in the House dominated by Duterte allies on Friday voted 70-11 to reject ABS-CBN's franchise application and permanently stop its broadcast operations which regulators closed down last May.
The denial of ABS-CBN's franchise was "a sole prerogative of Congress that we in the Executive recognize," Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque said.
"The Palace has maintained a neutral stance on the issue as it respects the separation of powers between the 2 co-equal branches government," he said.
Diokno last week floated the idea of reviving ABS-CBN's franchise bid through a people's initiative that would require the signatures of at least 10 percent of the country's total voters and at least 3 percent of every legislative district's voters.
This option is "doable" given ABS-CBN's nationwide reach and celebrities, he said.
Malacañang on Sunday said it would leave the issue up to the Supreme Court because a broadcast license required a private bill that must "originate exclusively in the House of Representatives."
"I don't understand that argument because if Congress can pass a law, why can't the people pass a law when the authority of Congress comes from the people?" said Diokno, founding dean of the De La Salle University College of Law.
"If that's true then that means the sovereignty of the people is limited? Every constitutional professor knows, even every law student knows that's not possible," he said.
Government "has a duty" to fund the people's initiative because it is "a basic constitutional right," he added.
"This is a way for the people, finally, to express themselves without having to go through the typical congressmen, congresswomen, whom I think a lot of us feel do not represent the interest of the people. This is the chance of the people to say, 'This is what we want,'" he said.
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