The Philippine Senate will proceed with its first hearing on the franchise renewal of broadcasting network ABS-CBN this month, ahead of the House of Representatives, which has yet to discuss the matter.
The first hearing on February 27 was confirmed by Senator Grace Poe, who chairs the Senate Committee on Public Services.
She clarified that the Senate respects the mandate and authority of the House of Representatives, from where franchise bills should emanate, but pointed out that there have been instances when both chambers of Congress have held simultaneous hearings.
The House has not reviewed any of the bills seeking to renew the broadcast franchise of ABS-CBN that have been filed since July 2019.
The broadcasting giant’s franchise is set to expire on March 30.
“In case the House fails to pass it, at least the issues will be heard in the Senate,” Poe said in Filipino.
The senator, who filed Senate Resolution 322 that seeks for a Senate probe on ABS-CBN’s franchise issues such as its regulation compliance and alleged violations, assured that her decision to proceed with the hearing is not meant to disrespect the House of Representatives.
“We respect Congress… That’s why I respectfully delayed hearings here in the Senate, hoping they would calendar it,” Poe said.
She added that it is not her intention to “pressure them” but “as a lawmaker and as a citizen, we expect our representatives to act on our behalf in a timely manner.”
Poe also expressed hope that the House will already act on the ABS-CBN franchise before the Congress adjourns mid-March.
“It is our hope that they will act on it already because as we know the franchise of ABS-CBN will end this March. However, it’s the prerogative of the House whether or not they will hear it,” she said.
“But in the case of the Senate, I think we should be able to exercise our mandate, otherwise, we are not fulfilling our responsibility,” she added.
Poe also raised concerns over the 11,000 employees of ABS-CBN that will be put out of jobs if the network closes down.
“That will be very problematic because when your franchise is cancelled, my understanding is, particularly for media, you can’t broadcast anything anymore with that frequency. So what does that mean? Blackout. On March 30 (the franchise’s expiry date), about 11,000 people will have to walk out from their jobs,” she said.
“I’m not saying that ABS-CBN is the primary source of news, it’s not that. It doesn’t mean that freedom of expression is absolutely removed, but it can also send a message that somehow, in certain cases, other media outlets might be a little bit worried about their own situation without going into details of the complaint of the quo warranto,” she added.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, for his part, filed a joint resolution seeking to extend ABS-CBN’s legislative franchise until 2022.
He cited needing more time for both houses of Congress to review the application for the renewal of the network’s franchise.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said that Drilon referred his joint resolution to the Senate Public Services Committee so that it can also be tackled in the upcoming hearing, and no senator objected to the motion.