Senator Grace Poe has gotten her wish and usurped the House of Representatives on the matter of the ABS-CBN franchise. The Senate has set its first public hearing on the media corporation’s franchise for February 27, despite the House of Representatives not yet transmitting any version of the bill to their sister chamber.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri announced the hearing last Monday. Poe, who heads the Senate Committee on Public Services, also confirmed the hearing the same day.
Poe also authored Senate Resolution 322, which calls for the Senate to probe into the many alleged violations committed by ABS-CBN against the terms of their franchise. This was in response to Solicitor General Jose Calida’s filing of a quo warranto petition against the broadcasting giant in the Supreme Court.
A similar resolution was filed by Senator Franklin Drilon, Senate Resolution 11, which urged the franchise matter to be rushed, considering there are only 12 more session days before the next adjournment of Congress on March 14.
Franchise bills originate in the House of Representatives and must undergo the full process of becoming a law. The Senate’s sudden imposition on the process, despite statements from both Senate President Tito Sotto and Speaker of the House of Representatives that ABS-CBN will have its due to to defend its case and will be allowed to continue operations until the pending bills have been resolved, shows that some members of the upper chamber have other more pressing interests in the issue.
Speaker Cayetano was especially clear in a statement released yesterday which reiterated the House’s stance of giving an impartial hearing in due time. With all the recent natural disasters that have hit the country since last year, from earthquakes in Davao to COVID-2019, as well as the left over rehabilitation of Marawi and other areas, when would the House have had time to discuss the franchise of one company?
“As the leader of the House, I disagree with the rush to judgement, whether in favor or against the renewal. And I will stand by this decision,” Speaker Cayetano said.
“Everyone from all sides of the issue say that this is an important debate – so allow us then to give it the due importance it deserves. Pressure us to do what is right regardless if it is popular or unpopular. But do not pressure us to do what is expedient for the sake of being popular. Congress is the wrong chamber for that,” continued the Speaker’s statement.
Drilon’s resolution especially contradicts the very clear statements of Congress’ leaders and reiterates the doomsday predictions that have been disproven, like the sudden unemployment of 11,000 workers.
Poe on the other hand, defended Drilon’s resolution and the Senate’s out of line actions by saying that the House and the Senate have simultaneously held hearings for bills before. She then cites the TRAIN Law and the General Appropriations Act, otherwise known as the National Budget.
Both of these examples are matters of national importance with huge possible impacts on the Filipino people. The matter of ABS-CBN’s franchise, no matter how popular their shows are, is not the same. It is at its core a concern of a specific company. The issue is in no way comparable to the TRAIN Law or the GAA, unless hold the interests of the shareholders of ABS-CBN and the good of the public on the same level of importance.
In stark contrast to the House of Representatives, who have accomplished much in the way of addressing the immediate and pressing concerns of sudden disasters, these senators seem keen on forwarding their own agenda ahead of the good of national development.
The Senate’s premature move will likely not provide anything beyond a platform for more grandstanding for certain senators. No matter how big ABS-CBN is, how rich their owners are, or how many senators have vested interests in the company’s business the rule of the law and the rule of how laws are passed cannot be usurped.