By Ben Rosario
Senior administration congressmen demanded on Monday the conduct of public hearings for the legislative franchise application of broadcast network leader ABS-CBN Corporation, saying that the quo warranto petition filed by government to revoke the franchise should be ignored.
Deputy Speakers and Pangasinan Rep. Rosemary “Baby” Arenas and Laguna Rep. Sol Aragones, chairperson of the House committee on tourism, called on the Lower House to exercise its independence, saying the court case filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) should be left to the executive and judiciary departments to decide.
Oppositionists Reps. Edcel Lagman (LP, Albay); and France Castro (Act Teachers party-list) chided the Duterte government’s move to shut down ABS-CBN through judicial action.
All four lawmakers authored separate legislative proposals seeking to grant the Kapamilya network a 25-year extension of its legislative franchise that is set to expire on March 30.
The House committee on legislative franchises has yet to set a public hearing on the eight ABS-CBN franchise bills, most of which were filed way ahead of numerous similar measures for other broadcasting, power, and telecommunications firms.
On Monday, the House panel chaired by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez conducted its first hearing for the year. It approved four franchise measures included in the agenda.
Lagman decried the OSG petition filed before the Supreme Court as both “unwarranted and misplaced.”
“Solicitor General (Jose Calida) is again acting as the private lawyer of President Duterte against his enemies and to forward his political agenda,” Castro said in a statement.
Arenas noted that the OSG petition made known government’s position on the franchise application, and stressed she sees nothing wrong with the filing of the quo warranto case, saying that in the “interest of due process we should entertain” it.
However, Arenas said that while the executive and judiciary have the constitutional mandate to act independently, so does Congress.
Aragones, who used to work for ABS-CBN as a television reporter, said Congress should be given the opportunity to observe its mandate in approving or rejecting applications for legislative franchises.
She said the House of Representatives should be given the chance to study and act on ABS-CBN’s franchise extension since this is part of the chamber’s responsibility.
Aragones also noted that “it’s important to take into consideration the more than 11,000 employees of ABS-CBN and their families, as well as the general public who patronizes the network.”
In a press statement, Castro noted that Calida “has devoted so much of his time” in pursuing cases against critics of the Duterte government. Among them are members of the Makabayan bloc; former SC Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno; former senator Antonio Trillanes, and Sen. Leila de Lima.
“President Duterte is once again using his attack dogs against his critics and those who refuse to bow to him. This time, to muzzle free press [and] endanger the jobs of at least 11,000 media workers and artists without due process,” Castro said.
For his part, Lagman criticized the OSG for filing the wrong case, pointing out that a quo warranto petition presupposes that the respondent had usurped the exercise of a public office.
“A holder of a valid congressional franchise is not a usurper,” the opposition solon pointed out.
Lagman, a lawyer, also questioned the choice of venue for the filing of the petition.
“Since the Supreme Court is not a trier of facts and the subject quo warranto petition involves factual questions on the alleged violations, the venue for the petition must be the proper Regional Trial Court which must conduct a trial on the facts,” he explained.