But election lawyer Emil Marañon III cites key obstacles: budget, time, et al
MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte and lawmakers have no power to block the grant of a broadcast franchise to ABS-CBN Corp through a people's initiative if it succeeds in getting the required numbers, lawyers who volunteered for the move said Friday.
The broadcast giant can resume its free television and radio services if the granting of a franchise to ABS-CBN wins in a national referendum after the gathering of at least 7 million signatures, said lawyer Eirene Jhone Aguila.
“Ang kagandahan dito, may say pa ba ang Kongreso? Wala. Effective na ang batas once dumaan sa referundum at once na-publish, puwede ba itong i-veto ng Presidente? Hindi rin. Ganoon ka-powerful ang People’s Initiative,” Aguila said in a webinar organized by labor group Defend Jobs Philippines.
(The advantage here is, does Congress have a say? None. A law is effective once it passes a referendum and once published, can the President veto it? No. That's how powerful a People's Initiative is.)
Aguila, a professor at the Far Eastern University (FEU) Institute of Law, earlier said the people's initiative would require the signatures of at least 3 percent of registered voters in each legislative district and at least 10 percent of total registered voters in the country.
Once the signatures are verified by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the petition will trigger a referendum, where people will vote on the proposed measure, she said.
If a majority vote is obtained in the referendum, the law will be published and immediately become effective, its proponents said.
However, lawyer Emil Marañon III, who specializes in election law, said the proponents should "rather concern themselves with practicality, time and money."
"How will they systematically gather the signatures of the 10 percent of the country’s registered voters which is estimated to be around 6.5 million? How soon can the Comelec verify the 6.5 million signatures given that they are already in the thick of the preparation for the 2022 elections?" he asked.
The election lawyer explained that a people's initiative would only launch a referendum, and that act itself would not give ABS-CBN a fresh franchise.
"We have to note that it will only initiate a nationwide referendum. It will not give ABS-CBN a franchise in itself. What actually births a law is the nationwide referendum that will be called by the Comelec. And who will finance the P4 billion that will be needed for a nationwide national referendum? Will the same Congress that denied ABS-CBN a franchise give that to Comelec?" Marañon said.
"In short, there is an inherent difficulty in the process, that is why, up to now, no one has succeeded in launching a people’s initiative since the passage of Republic Act No. 6735 in 1989," he added.
A House of Representatives panel dominated by Duterte's allies killed on July 10 ABS-CBN's franchise application, which has forced the network to let go of thousands of workers.
Duterte, since early in his term, had attacked ABS-CBN in various speeches for supposedly failing to air some of his 2016 local election ads. After the franchise was denied, Duterte claimed credit for dismantling the "oligarchy" represented by ABS-CBN's owners, the Lopez family.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) set up a booth in front of ABS-CBN's headquarters in Quezon City on Monday to gather more signatures.
Residents of Antipolo City submitted 79 signatures to the NUJP.
“Wala namang sapilitan 'yon, kung sino lang ang may gusto 'yon lang ang pipirma,” said network fan Wilfredo Darwin.
(No one is being forced. Whoever wants to sign, they're just the ones who do so.)
Vendor Iluminado Cos, who has been selling snacks to ABS-CBN workers for 30 years, was among those who signed.
“Awang-awa ako sa mga empleyado dito... Halos nawala lahat sila, may mga anak sila nag-aaral. Kung may konsensya sila, dapat naawa sila, asan ang sinasabi nila na mahal nila ang mahihirap?” she said.
(I pity the employees here. Almost all of them are gone now. They have children who are still studying. If they have a conscience, they should pity the workers. Where is their supposed love for the poor?)
Taxi driver Nicarlo Rondubio pulled over at the NUJP booth to sign the petition for ABS-CBN's license renewal.
“Baka sakaling maibalik ang channel may mapapanood na maganda ang mga anak ko,” he said.
(If perhaps the channel returns, my children will have something nice to watch again.)
The petition can also be accessed and downloaded from www.pirma.ph. and social media pages of PIRMA Kapamilya.
- with a report from Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News