Tolentino questions Senate’s ‘premature’ hearing on ABS-CBN franchise
MANILA, Philippines — Senator Francis Tolentino on Tuesday questioned the constitutionality of the Senate hearing on ABS-CBN’s franchise bills, raising concern that it may be “premature” as the House of Representatives’ version of the measure has yet to be officially transmitted to the upper chamber.
“This hearing might be premature, ang ating pong ihi-hear natin ngayon ay [what we are trying to hear now are] four Senate bills, it has nothing to do with the House bill which we don’t know yet the shape and form of how and when it will come out from the legislative mill of the lower house. Yun po ang ating problema [That is the problem we are facing],” Tolentino said as the Senate public services opened its “hybrid” hearing.
Under the Constitution, a franchise bill must first be approved by the lower chamber before it can be tackled in Senate plenary.
“We might be violating the Constitution if we hear a bill in anticipation of the bill which has not yet been passed,” he added but stressed that he would not move to defer the conduct of the Senate hearing.
Tolentino raised this point after Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he would reserve his questions on issues regarding ABS-CBN’s franchise until the House transmits its version of the bill.
Last week, the House approved on second reading House Bill 6732 seeking to grant ABS-CBN an interim franchise valid until October 31, 2020, a shorter period than what was proposed in the Senate, only hours after it was filed by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and other House leaders.
However, the second reading approval of the said bill was recalled on Monday after some lawmakers insisted “to further interpellate on the matter.”
“I was surprised because there was a development in the House of Representatives last night. Instead of approving the provisional franchise they passed the other week on third reading, they opted to reconsider it for second reading,” Sotto noted.
“Right now we are tackling Senate bills…We don’t really know what shape, color, or size of the bill that would emanate from the House would come out…So I will opt to raise my questions on the House bill..we will just listen to the resource persons now,” he added.
Both Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the Senate can tackle bills, which should originate from the House, provided that a committee report will not yet be finalized.
“As a matter of procedure, there has been a practice in the Senate wherein bills which are supposed to or the House can be heard substantially…the rule is we can conduct hearings on the ABS-CBN franchise, for example, but there can be no report submitted without the House bill,” Drilon said.
“We have been doing this for years, this is our tradition. The budget is heard by the Senate as early as August even before the House can approve their version. Technically that bill is supposed to originate from the House,” he added.
Zubiri said he also sees “no violation of the origination clause of the Constitution.”
“We can tackle these measures today. The chairperson can just withhold the committee report,” the majority leader added.
Sotto, meanwhile, clarified that “nobody is challenging” the Senate committee hearing.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian assured that the hearing “is purely anticipatory, explanatory as well as clarificatory.”
Gatchalian, vice-chair of the Senate public services committee, was earlier designated to lead the hearing after panel chair Senator Grace Poe inhibited herself.
“This preliminary hearing will not yield to a committee report. We will be waiting for the transmittal of the House version, hopefully, today, but due to unforeseen circumstances, that was delayed. We deemed it necessary to proceed with a preliminary hearing,” he said.
A day after its franchise lapsed on May 4, ABS-CBN went off the air in compliance with the cease-and-desist order issued by the NTC directing the network to shut down its TV and radio broadcasting operations nationwide.
This, despite NTC’s earlier assurance that it would grant a provisional authority to ABS-CBN as Congress deliberates on the network’s pending franchise renewal.
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