ABS-CBN franchise application must be tackled at House plenary – lawyer
MANILA, Philippines — Discussions on ABS-CBN’s franchise should be elevated past a committee and to the plenary of the House of Representatives so that the voice of the majority of the lower chamber regarding the matter will be heard.
Veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal believes so and said Wednesday that merely leaving the fate of ABS-CBN — which employs over 11,000 workers — to the hands of 84 lawmakers defeats the purpose of people electing representatives to the legislature.
Macalintal was referring to the 84 House officials as well as members of the House legislative franchises committee who took part in the voting that denied the bid of the broadcasting giant for a fresh 25-year license to operate.
A total of 70 members voted in favor of the panel report junking ABS-CBN’s franchise application while 11 voted against it. Two lawmakers inhibited and another one abstained in the voting.
“At present, the HR (House of Representatives) is composed of 304 representatives, representing 243 district representatives and 61 party-lists. But those who participated in deciding ABS-CBN’s franchise totaled 84 only,” Macalintal said in a statement.
“Thus, a great majority of our people are asking: What happened to our representatives? How did they vote on this issue? Did they truly act as ‘representatives’ of the people? Did their votes reflect their constituent’s will?” he pointed out.
Macalintal also questioned whether the vote of the 70 lawmakers represented the people’s will — as the legislature’s rules state that the House of Representatives is for the people and a public office where legislative mandates are to be performed in consideration of the people’s welfare.
A recent Social Weather Stations survey showed that three in four Filipinos or 75 percent want Congress to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise while 56 percent consider the denial of the network’s franchise bid a blow to press freedom.
The survey, taken through mobile phone interviews from July 3 to 6, was released after the House panel made their vote.
“When the 70 representatives cast their votes denying the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, did they really fulfill their ‘constitutional duty to make laws that effectively respond to the needs of the people’ considering the 11,000 employees of the network who will eventually lose their jobs and its effect to several thousand members of their families?” Macalintal asked.
“Did they really perform their legislative mandates in compliance with ‘the rule of law and social justice with utmost competence and fidelity to the people’s welfare’ considering that even a member of the committee reported that there is no evidence that ABS-CBN violated the laws?” he added.
Earlier, the beleaguered network announced that they will cease some of their operations starting August 31, as they have been without a franchise since May 5 when the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued a cease and desist order (CDO) after their old franchise expired.
The company will also start retrenching some of its employees by the end of next month.
NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios previously admitted that the CDO was released due to questions on the validity of ABS-CBN’s franchise.
Cabarios did not explicitly mention what questions were raised, but Solicitor General Jose Calida filed in February a quo warranto petition against the media network before the Supreme Court for allegedly hiding foreign ownership behind a corporate veil.
Macalintal, however, said such questions can be raised and addressed even while ABS-CBN is operating, so that people continue to have jobs and that timely public information is still released.
“If certain officers of the network violated the law, the remedy is to file individual cases against them which should not affect the company as a whole under the elementary principle that a corporation’s legal personality is separate and distinct from its officers or stockholders,” he stressed.
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