Duterte hands off ABS-CBN hearing

Rodrigo Duterte

SPEAKER Alan Peter Cayetano on Thursday said President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte respects the independence of Congress on various issues, including the hearing on the controversial franchise of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation.

Cayetano added that Duterte is not meddling in the affairs of Congress and values the separation of powers and checks and balances in the three branches of government.

“I can tell you and look you in the eyes that the Presidente’s request to me is just be fair. He’s leaving the matter to us. The President has never told me to grant or not grant the franchise,” Cayetano told reporters.

The Speaker expressed gratitude to Duterte’s position recognizing and respecting the independence and authority of Congress.

“If you examine his attitude, in the confirmation (by the Commission on Appointments) of his Cabinet members, he did not meddle in the process. To him, what belongs to Congress belongs to Congress, and what belongs to the executive branch belongs to the executive branch,” Cayetano explained.

The Speaker was referring to the rejection in the past by the Commission on Appointments of some members of the Cabinet.

Cayetano said the House committee on legislative franchises chaired by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez will begin its hearings on Tuesday on the proposed grant of a fresh 25-year franchise to ABS-CBN.

“I assured him (Alvarez) he has complete autonomy with the vice chairman and, I will be making the session hall available to make sure the witnesses who will be there observe social distancing and there is enough space for everyone,” Cayetano pointed out.

He said some of the hearings would be “hybrid” and done through videoconference, while others would be conducted jointly with the committee on good government “so that officials of the National Telecommunications Commission and the Solicitor General can participate and explain themselves so the people can judge their actions.”

Upon the advice of Solicitor General Jose Calida, the NTC issued an order stopping ABS-CBN from broadcasting effective last May 5 despite the promise made by its officials under oath before a House hearing in March that they would issue a provision authority when its franchise expired on May 4.

Cayetano said he would have wanted the House to focus single-mindedly on measures to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, help the affected people and prepare the nation for the post-lockdown and post-coronavirus disease new-normal life.

“Again, it’s right that we will have the hearings, it’s right that the process be fair, impartial, comprehensive, and transparent. I think the timing is not right but we don’t have a choice because ABS-CBN is off the air,” he stressed.

The Speaker pleaded for calm and sobriety among critics and supporters of the radio-television network.

Cayetano lamented that the debate has become a “poisoned well” and that the pro and anti sides have resorted to name-calling and throwing insults at each other.

“At this time of Covid-19 pandemic, we should be united and not divided. We can be passionate in our stand on the ABS-CBN issue, on divorce, on the death penalty, but let us not fight, let us not insult each other, so that our focus will not veer away from Covid-19 and the needs of our people,” said Cayetano.