Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile on Tuesday questioned the House of Representatives‘ proposal to grant media giant ABS-CBN a temporary franchise when the Congress can grant the network its permanent franchise for another 25 years.
The country’s largest broadcaster signed off the air on May 5 in compliance with the National Telecommunications Commission’s cease-and-desist order because its franchise lapsed.
Four pending bills have then been filed that seek to grant ABS-CBN either a provisional license to operate or a fresh license that will last for the next 25 years.
In a Facebook post on May 17, Enrile expressed his concerns regarding the Lower House’s move to grant ABS-CBN a temporary franchise bill and pass House Bill No. 6732, which would expire on October 31 should it be signed into law.
THE ABS-CBN PUZZLEBy Juan Ponce Enrile1. The Constitution requires that: "The ownership and management of mass media…
Posted by Juan Ponce Enrile on Saturday, May 16, 2020
The bill was immediately approved on the first and second reading at the Lower House on May 13.
Enrile said the railroading of bills is unconstitutional as stated in Article VI, Section 26 (2) of the 1987 Constitution, wherein:
“No bill passed by either House shall become a law unless it has passed three readings on separate days, and printed copies thereof in its final form have been distributed to its Members three days before its passage, except when the President certifies to the necessity of its immediate enactment to meet a public calamity or emergency.”
The veteran lawmaker further questioned the Congress’s legislative power to grant the media giant a temporary franchise despite the permanent license being expired. ABS-CBN’s former license expired on May 4.
Should this be allowed, Enrile noted other possible issues, and questions may arise.
“How temporary would the temporary franchise be? Or to put it more explicitly: How long a time would that temporary franchise last? Would the duration of that temporary franchise be deducted from the maximum period of fifty (50) years allowed under the Constitution for each and every legislative franchise granted by Congress?” he asked.
He argued that the temporary license would also render useless should the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the quo warranto petition Solicitor General Jose Calida earlier filed against ABS-CBN over alleged violations
Enrile described this dilemma between the Supreme Court and Congress, two branches of the government, as an embarrassing “constitutional conundrum” if the Congress had its way with the passage of House Bill 6732.
“How would the Philippine government at that point, treat the assets generated by ABS-CBN under the aegis of its temporary legislative, but unconstitutional, franchise? Would the Philippine government allow ABS-CBN to keep and enjoy the fruits of its violation of the Constitution? Well, it is indeed a hell of a legal conundrum!” he said.
Events during the Senate hearing about ABS-CBN’s fate
Enrile and retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno Jr. were among the resource speakers at the Senate public services committee hearing into the ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal on Tuesday.
Enrile and Puno initially shared different interpretations on how the Congress should treat the four pending bills seeking to renew ABS-CBN’s radio and television operations.
Puno suggested waiting for the lower chamber to approve the bills before proceeding with the Senate inquiry.
For Enrile, this would make Congress’ legislative functions “too rigid.”
The former senate president then reiterated his position against Congress granting ABS-CBN an interim license and added that the body should just tackle the company’s fresh 25-year franchise instead.
“Why can you not give a permanent franchise to ABS-CBN right away, conduct a day-and-night hearing…instead of playing with the constitution by granting a temporary franchise?” Enrile said.
“If Congress can grant a temporary franchise, what is the compelling reason for Congress not to grant a permanent franchise with a reasonable period of 25 years?” he added.
The House of Representatives later announced its decision to drop the temporary franchise bill to focus on the full 25-year renewal application.
“I, together with the House of Representatives leadership have decided to forego with the provisional franchise, and immediately proceed with the hearings for the full 25-year renewal application of the ABS-CBN franchise,” House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said on Tuesday afternoon.