Puno, Enrile clash on congressional process on ABS-CBN franchise bill
MANILA, Philippines — Two of the country’s legal luminaries clashed on Tuesday on the interpretation of how the Senate should treat the pending bills on media giant ABS-CBN’s application for franchise renewal.
Retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno Jr. on Tuesday said it would be “more appropriate” for the Senate to wait for the lower chamber’s version of ABS-CBN’s franchise bill before it proceeds with the deliberations on the measure.
But former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, himself a lawyer, said that doing so would make the body “too rigid” in its legislative functions.
The Senate public services committee opened its hearings on four pending Senate bills either seeking to grant ABS-CBN a fresh 25-year franchise or to give the network a temporary franchise.
“It is best to hear the final sense of the House of Representatives. In other words, the Senate should await for that bill already in its final form. That bill which already contains and expresses the wisdom of the members of the House. I think that is the more appropriate step to take,” Puno told senators.
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 that 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.”
Reacting to Puno’s remarks, Enrile said that while he agrees that local bills “should begin” in the House of Representatives, the former chief justice’s opinion “will not apply to bills like appropriating money for the national government, placing revenue… or legislation bearing on national interest.”
“You know, we have to coordinate this with the provision of the Constitution that either houses of Congress can conduct hearings in aid of legislation. When you conduct hearings in aid of legislation you can ask any question inquiry on any subject whether if there was a bill pending or not, because the purpose of that provision is to educate the legislature of national issue and national problem,” Enrile said.
“If we are going to follow the Chief Justice’s position, we’ll become too rigid in our legislative functions,” he added.
Puno invoked the origination provision of the Constitution which states that private bills, like franchise bills, must emanate from the House.
“Let us bear in mind that two kinds of laws are within the power of congress to promulgate. The first kind would refer to what we call as laws of general application. In this kind of laws, the Constitution is clear that both Houses can tackle the law not in a sequential basis. Both Houses can initiate the law deliberate on the law the without any restriction,” he explained.
“But we’re talking here of a special kind of a law. Laws of local application and private bills and so on. This is a different kind of a law, because of the additional constitutional provision on origination,” he added.
Enrile interjected and told Puno: “Revenue laws applies to the country in general, the Constitution simply says it must originate form the House. If your theory is correct, will the Senate stop working and just wait there without studying the revenue laws or appropriation laws that are coming to it?”
At this point, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who is leading the hearing, reminded the former Senate president to let Puno finish his statement first.
“For an orderly discussion, let us allow the resource person to finish their discussion,” Gatchalian added.
Puno then responded to Enrile and said that the origination provision under the Constitution should not be interpreted literally.
“We should not resort to a literal interpretation that would result in an interpretation that is not appropriate to the spirit of the Constitution. I’m saying that we do not interpret this provision the same way that we interpret the origination of private bills and the origination of appropriation bills and so on and so forth,” he said.
“I’m saying that we should have a kind of space, elasticity so that we are able to serve the spirit of the Constitution, that is all what I’m saying. We should not resort to interpretation that would result in absurdity,” he added.
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