By Ben Rosario
A joint House of Representatives panel Wednesday ordered the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to explain in writing why ABS-CBN continues to use broadcast frequency to air television programs, including the live coverage of Wednesday’s congressional hearing.
At the resumption of the hearing on the network’s application for a 25-year legislative franchise, discussions turned heated between pro- and anti-ABS-CBN solons after Buhay Partylist Rep. Lito Atienza chided colleagues, in particular Deputy Speaker and Sagip Partylist Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, for “browbeating” network lawyers and officials in opposing the network’s request.
Anakalusugan Rep. Michael Defensor directed the NTC, represented in the proceedings by Commissioner Gamaliel Cordova, to tell Congress why TV Plus, an encrypted digital terrestrial television provider of ABS-CBN, continues to go on the air despite the fact that the agency had directed the network to cease and desist from using the broadcast frequency assigned by government.
Defensor issued the order after Deputy Speaker and Cavite Rep. Crispin Remulla called the attention of the House Committees on Legislative Franchises and on Good Government about the continued operation of TV Plus.
Remulla pointed out that like ABS-CBN, TV Plus should have ceased operations because the legislative franchise granted by Congress to the network already expired on May 4.
Members of the two House panels took turns in airing their pro- and anti-ABS-CBN arguments over the constitutionality of granting legislative franchise that is supposedly beyond the 50-year limit provided in the 1987 Constitution.
Marcoleta insisted that it would be unconstitutional for Congress to issue a new 25-year franchise for ABS CBN because this would overshoot the 50-year maximum imposed by the Charter.
When ABS-CBN pointed out that 13 other legislative franchises granted by Congress are over the supposed 50-year limit, Marcoleta replied that this is the first time that the constitutional issue was raised.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, however, stressed that there is no constitutional provisions or statute that prohibits the renewal or grant of congressional franchise to firms that have been in operation “for more than half a century.”
“Nowhere in this provision is the effective life of a mass media enterprise pegged to a terminal of 50 years. Senior corporations must be recognized and awarded for the longevity of their public service instead of being discriminated against in the renewal or grant of legislative franchise,” Lagman said.
Discussions became heated when Atienza took the floor to point out that no constitutional violation was committed because each legislative franchise granted to ABS-CBN never overshot the supposed 50-year limit.
“Congress can grant a one-month franchise or 50 years, so long as it will not be over the 50 years provided by the Constitution,” said Atienza.
While interpellating lawyer Ayo Bautista, Atienza accused Marcoleta of “browbeating” the ABS-CBN counsel, refusing to give him a chance to respond to the deputy speaker’s questions.
“He is alleging a constitutional violation when there is none,” stated Atienza.
This elicited a protest from Remulla who sought to strike off the record certain portions of Atienza’s confrontational statement against his House colleagues.
“I am not willing to be corrected by you because you also have been monopolizing this hearing,” the partylist solon responded to Remulla’s objections.
During the hearing, Atienza also accused the joint panel of being prejudiced against ABS-CBN, an accusation that the two chairmen assailed.
While keeping his cool, Bulacan Rep. Jonathan Sy-Alvarado, chairman of the good government panel, aired hopes that Atienza’s allegation be the last to be aired during the hearing.
On the other hand, Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, chairman of the Committee on Legislative Franchises, also took exception to Atienza’s allegation, pointing out that all committee members, and at times non-members, have been given the same period of time to interpellate witnesses.