Opposition senator challenges top Duterte aide in TV network row

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Protesters demonstrate in support of ABS-CBN television network and for media freedom in Manila on Red Friday. Image: Rappler

By Felipe F. Salvosa II in Manila

Philippines Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has dismissed comments by Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go that “politics” is behind the filing of a proposed concurrent resolution calling on regulators to temporarily allow television giant ABS-CBN to operate as Congress deliberates on its franchise application.

The Senate has the prerogative to pass a concurrent resolution expressing its “sense” on the matter, which does not have the force of law, unlike a joint resolution that needs to be passed by both the Senate and House of Representatives and signed by the president, Drilon told reporters on Wednesday.

“Being a neophyte senator, he (Go) may not be aware of our tradition and our rules. Precisely, a concurrent resolution does not go through the president because it has no force and effect of a law. It is just a sense of the Senate. There is no politics here,” Drilon said.

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“We are not depriving the President of the right to veto or approve,” he added.

Drilon’s earlier proposed joint resolution seeks to extend ABS-CBN’s franchise until the end of 2022, prompting an accusation from Go that opposition senators did not want President Rodrigo Duterte to have a hand on the issue. Duterte steps down on June 30, 2022.

Go, on Monday’s Senate inquiry into the ABS-CBN franchise, gave an idea as to why the Duterte-controlled House of Representatives was stalling on the TV network’s licence renewal.

He said Duterte was displeased over ABS-CBN’s supposed refusal to air his 2016 campaign ad that was a response to an attack ad financed by an arch-critic, then senator Antonio Trillanes IV.

ABS-CBN on Monday said Commission on Election restrictions in the final stretch of the 2016 campaign prevented the Duterte ad from being aired, and that it returned the payment, but Duterte refused to accept it.

Go countered that it took a year for ABS-CBN to address the Duterte campaign’s grievance. “Remember, in an election campaign, especially in a presidential campaign, there is no tomorrow. Every second matters,” he said.

Guevarra vs Puno
Drilon, along with Senator Grace Poe, also dismissed comments by retired chief justice Reynato Puno that ABS-CBN cannot operate when its 25-year franchise expires, based on a 2003 court ruling.

The franchise expires on May 4, 2020, reckoned from the date of effectivity of 15 days after publication, which is April 19, 1995, according to the Department of Justice.

Drilon said Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s opinion – that ABS-CBN could be allowed to operate on a provisional authority from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) given Congress’ lack of time to pass a new franchise – should be binding throughout the Executive Branch.

“Guevarra said that on grounds of equity, the ABS-CBN can continue. Again, this is an opinion expressed by no less than the secretary of justice, whose opinion is binding on the entire executive branch, so this must be extended due respect.”

Guevarra gave his opinion on the franchise issue during Monday’s Senate inquiry called by Poe.

Drilon said he was in favor of doing what was “necessary in order to allow an objective debate on the renewal of the franchise, without the threat of ABS-CBN being closed.”

In fact, even without the concurrent resolution, a provisional authority would still be valid, he said.

‘Man of wisdom’
“That is the view of Secretary Guevarra; that is the view of Speaker Cayetano; and that is the view of Senator Poe as chairman of the committee on public services,” Drilon said.

Poe said that while Puno is a “man of integrity and wisdom,” a lot had happened since the 2003 ruling that he penned.

“And in fact, hundreds of franchises go through both houses of Congress and because of that, the cure of Congress, because sometimes they don’t have enough time to deliberate on it, is to direct the NTC to grant the provisional license,” Poe told ABS-CBN’s Karen Davila.

Poe also said that even without any resolution from Congress, ABS-CBN should continue operating, “even just by precedents of the acts of Congress in recent years.”

Several companies have been given provisional licenses, she pointed out, citing PT&T, Globe, Smart, GMA Network, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and Marine Broadcasting.

Felipe F. Salvosa is coordinator of the journalism programme at the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines and a contributor to Asia Pacific Report.

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