It’s no secret that I’m deeply saddened by the fate of ABS-CBN whose franchise renewal was denied by a congressional committee.

Having spent the past 18 years as host of the top-rating teleradyo program Sagot Ko ‘Yan on Sunday mornings, and as co-host of Magpayo Nga Kayo on Saturdays for around three years now, I’m proud to say I’m a solid Kapamilya forever.

And I shall be forever grateful for the continued opportunity to be of service to the public even though I’m retired from government ever since I stepped down as Interior and Local Government Secretary in 2004.

All my years at ABS-CBN have helped a lot in my undiminished resolve to serve God and country in my capacity as private citizen after being in government service for 22 years altogether.

I shall always cherish my experience at ABS-CBN and, like many others whose lives were touched, I had hoped it would get a renewed franchise so the giant network could continue full blast in its avowed mission to be “in the service of the Filipino” for another 25 years.

But with our hopes dashed by Congress, my heart goes out for the thousands of the network’s employees who are set to be jobless by the end of August, and for the many others whose livelihood and economic activities are dependent on ABS-CBN operations.

I grieve for the millions of Filipinos, particularly the poor, who depended on ABS-CBN’s free-to-air broadcasting not only for entertainment, but also for crucial and timely information that was of tremendous help to them especially at this time when the coronavirus pandemic is on a rampage.

“Living in an area where cable networks hardly operate, majority of our towns in Lanao del Sur especially in far-flung areas tuned in to ABS-CBN because it’s the only channel their makeshift TV antennas could reach. They, too, have rights to accurate information,” Bangsamoro Parliament member Zia Alonto Adiong had posted on Twitter.

I also grieve for the needy Filipinos who relied, especially during calamities, on ABS-CBN’s various fundraising initiatives and outreach programs but which are now expected to be adversely affected by the congressional decision to reject the franchise renewal of the network.

Many Kapamilya supporters find it disgusting that House members, who are supposedly representatives of the people, opted for a ruling which was against what a vast majority of Filipinos wanted.

The Social Weather Stations recently disclosed that a national mobile survey “showed 3 out of 4 Filipinos or 75 percent said Congress should renew ABS-CBN’s franchise, while another 56 percent said the non-renewal of the franchise was a major blow to press freedom.”

Is there a viable way for the will of the people to prevail over the congressional ruling? Two very young lawyers – Enrique dela Cruz and Dino de Leon – who were my teleradyo online guests last Sunday believe so, through a “People’s Initiative” provided in the Constitution, with its implementing law, RA 6735.

An outstanding graduate of the University of Santo Tomas, Atty. Dela Cruz was first to raise the idea, in a Facebook post that went viral, of resorting to RA 6735 to enable the people to directly pass a law through initiative which could be started by gathering signatures of 10 percent of the voting population, with each legislative district having the support of at least three percent of voters.

In line with the Constitutional principle that “sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them,” RA 6735 provides for a referendum whereby people exercise their power to “approve or reject an act or law, or part thereof, passed by Congress.”

As to the opinion of some lawyers that a franchise proposal is a private bill and Congress has sole and exclusive power on it, Dela Cruz said such “does not make sense.” He cites Section 1, Article 6 of the Constitution which states legislative power shall be vested in both Houses of Congress, “except to the extent reserved to the people by the provision on initiative and referendum.” He argues that if People’s Initiative can amend the Constitution which is the highest law of the land, more so can other laws be changed or enacted by the people directly.

Utilizing for the ABS-CBN franchise grant the Initiative and Referendum Act might be cumbersome, considering the tedious process in which signatures are gathered and verified, but Atty. De Leon is unfazed.

A youth leader who graduated from De La Salle University, De Leon is confident that with the many volunteers offering to help, the cumbersome process called for in RA 6735 could be tackled. He said that his group is now in the midst of extensive preparations to launch a massive signature drive, aided by the use of digital technology through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

With these youth leaders at the forefront of efforts to bring back ABS-CBN, many believe they are in a position to enlighten and motivate young Filipinos to act. Having been a youth leader myself, I know how young people can be a force to reckon with, being the largest sector of Philippine society. When fully inspired and mobilized, the youth sector can single-handedly push for a law granting ABS-CBN a franchise.