Solon: No violation on prov’l franchise

Neptali “Boyet” Gonzales II
Deputy Speaker and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali “Boyet” Gonzales II

DEPUTY Speaker and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali “Boyet” Gonzales II has rejected Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan’s claim that the House of Representatives may have violated the Constitution when it approved on first and second reading a proposed law granting ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation a short-term franchise.

Gonzales, a former House Majority Leader, pointed out that what the Constitution requires is that the first, second and third reading must be done on separate days.

He explained that the leadership of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez soundly observed the Constitution by approving House Bill (HB) 6732, “An Act Granting the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. a Franchise to Construct, Install, Operate and Maintain Television and Radio Broadcasting Stations in the Philippines and for Other Purposes” for third and final reading this coming week or after three calendar days since it was approved on second reading last Wednesday.

If the bill is certified urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte, Gonzales said the approval on second and third reading may be done on the same day.

“In other words, there is nothing wrong for the House to lump together on the same day the First and Second reading of a bill and conduct the Third Reading on a separate day because of the three-day rule, unless certified by the President,” pointed out Gonzales, a veteran House leader.

“HB 6732 is scheduled for third reading on a separate day because it is not certified,” said Gonzales on the measure that will grant a legislative franchise to the ABS-CBN until October 31 this year.

He added the best example of a bill approved on first, second and third readings on the same day is the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act passed last March 23 by the House which was a certified measure.

“I think what the Constitution requires is that the First, Second and Third reading must be done on Separate days. It does not require three separate days. 

I submit that the First and Second Reading may be done on separate days or on the same day, depending on the decision of the Plenary, without violating the Constitution for as long as the Third Reading will be three days after distribution of printed copies [of the bill],” said Gonzales.

Pangilinan expressed fears of a possible constitutional violation by the House of Representatives when its Committee of the Whole passed the bill and also approved on second reading in the plenary on the same day.

The senator cited a constitutional provision requiring the passage of a bill on three readings on separate days unless certified by the President as urgent measure.

Pangilinan cited Article VI Section 26. (2) of the Constitution, which states that “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.”

NTC

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) said it turned its back on its vow to grant the ABS-CBN Corp. a provisional authority to operate pending congressional deliberations on the various bills seeking to renew its congressional franchise out of respect to Congress which has the sole power to grant franchises.

Under threat of being cited in contempt and arrested for reneging on its March to commitment, NTC officials apologized to the House of Representatives for reneging on its promise and issuing a cease and desist order which forced the television network last May 5 to go off the air.

“Please rest assured that we intended no disrespect whatsoever towards Congress. On the contrary, it was precisely NTC’s full respect and recognition for Congress’ sole prerogatives that led it to desist from issuing a PA and, thereafter, to conclude that it was legally bound to issue a CDO,” the NTC said in a letter to the House leadership.

NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, Deputy Commissioners Edgardo Cabarios and Delilah Deles, and legal branch head Ella Blanca Lopez signed the letter.

Last Monday, the House leadership through the House committee on legislative franchises chaired by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez gave the NTC 72 hours to explain why it should not be cited in contempt for closing down ABS-CBN after assuring lawmakers that the network will be issued a provisional authority to operate.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said last Wednesday that while there is nothing more important than prioritizing the fight to defeat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the NTC’s act has forced the hand of the House to act on the franchise bills.

Cayetano said all the NTC had to do at the very least was inform Congress that it could no longer make good on its promise to grant a provisional authority because “this piece of legislation may have been acted upon (by the House) then.”

The NTC admitted that its failure to notify the House of its decision to issue a CDO against ABS-CBN following the expiration of its franchise last May 4.

“We are deeply saddened as well for the inconvenience we may have caused Congress. Again, we express our contriteness and sincere apologies for the ensuing confusion this has caused, not the least because we are in the midst of a crisis,” it said.

According to the NTC, it could have exercised “more openness and prudence under the circumstances and, at the very least, alerted Congress of NTC’s inability based on legal grounds to issue the PA as well as its subsequent decision to issue a CDO when the franchise of ABS-CBN expired.”

The commission said it had to “rigorously” sift through various legal arguments, opinions of legal luminaries, stakeholders, and concerns of other sectors, on how to legally support the issuance of a provisional
authority.

The NTC officials also admitted that it “considered” the comment submitted by the Office of the Solicitor General (Jose Calida) that the issuance of a provisional authority is “contrary to the Constitution, the law, and jurisprudence which vested upon Congress the sole power to grant or renew a franchise.”

“Correspondingly, the OSG cautioned the NTC that its issuance of the PA would make its members liable for criminal prosecution,” the NTC said.

In the end, the NTC said the “collective assessment was that the Constitution, the laws, and jurisprudence, provided insurmountable obstacles to the issuance of a PA, notwithstanding equitable considerations.”

“If the NTC were to issue a PA, it would have amounted to an encroachment into the exclusive domain of Congress. We understand that the licensing power of the NTC may only arise from the necessary delegation of power from the Congress through a law. NTC would thus abide by any law passed by Congress which may extend all telecommunication and broadcasting legislative franchises that expired during the public health emergency, if there be any,” the NTC said.

Cayetano and other lawmakers rose on the floor to sponsor HB No. 6732, “An Act Granting the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. a Franchise to Construct, Install, Operate and Maintain Television and Radio Broadcasting Stations in the Philippines and for Other Purposes.”

Aside from Cayetano, other authors of HB No. 6732 are Romualdez, Gonzales, Deputy Speakers LRay Villafuerte of Camarines Sur, Raneo Abu of Batangas, Dan Fernandez of Laguna, and Roberto Puno of Antipolo City, and Bulacan Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado.

On the motion of Romualdez, the Wednesday session in the Plenary was initially convened as the Committee of the Whole to approve the measure.

HOUSE RESPONSE

Responding to the letter, Alvarez said his panel will consider the NTC officials’ explanation and the apology in resolving whether or not they should be held in contempt.

“We shall advise the NTC in due course of the Committee’s actions with regard to the foregoing matters,” he said.

At the same time, Cayetano said the giant network may return on free TV and radio by the first week of June at the soonest, depending on when HB No. 6732 will be enacted.

“If everything goes well, God willing, we finish it on Monday (we finish) on final reading. Tuesday, it will in the Senate. If the Senate can do it in one week, the week after next, latest first week of June, it’ll be on the air again,” Cayetano told dzMM.

Cayetano could not say if President Duterte will eventually sign the measure into a law but said the President, himself, has said that he has forgiven ABS-CBN for failing to air his campaign ads in 2016.

“If he (Duterte) asks me, I’ll just say, ‘Sir, this is only for following due process,” said Cayetano, principal author of the measure.

In another interview, Cayetano told ABS-CBN anchor Ted Failon that he does not want his term as Speaker to end in October without having finished the deliberations on the network’s franchise application.

“And Ted, I don’t want to wash my hands. October is the date when we’ll change the Speaker so I don’t want my term to end and say, ‘There was no hearing, there was no time,” said Cayetano.

The Speaker said the House is eyeing hearings for the giant network’s new franchise for 25 years between August to September 2020 to give more time to the Senate to also tackle the measure.

HOUSE TO OBSERVE DUE PROCESS

Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte has assured the public that ABS-CBN

will have its day in court, and that the House of Representatives will observe due process in tackling this TV network’s application for a renewal of its 25-year franchise to operate in the Philippines.

“I would like to assure everyone that we will follow due process. We

will, as much as possible, hear everybody's side,’ he said during the public affairs program Headstart on ANC. “That we can assure to the public.”

“What is important at this point is that ABS-CBN and other sectors should be given due process. Kung ma-convince ang members ng Congress na pwede nang desisyunan iyan, dedesisyunan na iyan,” he said.

Villafuerte noted that Cayetano has given the assurance that the House will take up this issue—to quote the Speaker—with “complete impartiality and fairness, whether or not the network shall be granted a franchise for another 25 years.”

Villafuerte said that House members wouldn’t have enough time to tackle ABS-CBN’s renewal application till the Congress’ sine die adjournment on June 5, given (1) the multi-faceted ABS-CBN issues that need to be taken up thoroughly, and (2) the need for legislators to devote their time over the next two weeks to pending measures whose passage are crucial for the country to deal with the global health emergency induced by the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

He said that these measures requiring urgent action by the Congress are HB No. 6623 that aims to help prepare Filipinos for the “new normal” way of life that is anchored on social or physical distancing and other health and safety protocols to avoid Covid-19 infection; and HB 6709 that proposes a three-year, P1.5-trillion infrastructure spending package focused on health, education, agriculture, local infrastructure and livelihood (HEAL).

The third priority measure that the House will tackle, he said, is the P1.3-trillion economic stimulus package drawn up by the House’s Defeat Covid-19 Committee (DCC) economic stimulus cluster co-chaired by Albay Rep. Jose Ma. Salceda and Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo.

Villafuerte explained that the measure sponsored by Salceda and Quimbo are meant as a stimulus package primarily for businesses and the tourism sector, while HB 6709 is an economic recovery plan similar to the Marshall Plan that the United States had implemented to rehabilitate its European allies after World War II and to the New Deal that was carried out by the then-Roosevelt Administration in the US after the Great Depression in the 1930s.

He said the House leadership decided to expedite the chamber’s action on the ABS-CBN case by convening the House into a Committee of the Whole—as allowed under House rules—to pass HB No. 6732 on second reading by voice vote.

The House needs to pass HB No. 6732 on third and final reading when it resumes session on May 18 before this bill can be transmitted to the Senate for its approval.

Villafuerte said it will actually take time for the House to take up ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal because of numerous issues involved, including the alleged constitutional violations and supposed tax deficiencies and foreign ownership.

He said that in the interest of fair play, the network will also have to be given time to answer the allegations.

The first issue that legislators will probably have to deal with, he said, is whether the Congress needs to merely renew ABS-CBN’s franchise or grant it a new one, considering that its franchise technically expired last May 4.

Villafuerte said the NTC will have to explain to lawmakers why it had issued a cease and desist order (CDO) against the network in violation of its earlier assurance to the House that it would issue a temporary permit for ABS-CBN to operate.

“The problem is they (NTC) issued a cease and desist order…They have to explain…they cannot lie to the Congress, they cannot lie to the Senate. They assured us that they will issue a temporary permit for (ABS-CBN) to operate and we were all surprised that they issued a cease and desist order,” he said.

He said the NTC broke precedents in issuing a CDO against ABS-CBN because it had in the past allowed certain institutions with expiring franchises to continue operating while they were securing their franchise renewals from the Congress.

“It will be part of the (upcoming) hearing because first they (NTC) have to explain. Before there were franchise holders whose franchises had expired and yet they let them operate. How come they are not allowing that now?” he stressed.

He said NTC officials could be charged with contempt and perjury.