Last Monday’s Senate hearing on the legislative franchise of the ABS-CBN broadcast network called by Sen. Grace Poe was a waste of time.
In the first place, the Senate should not be discussing the possible renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise. Under the Constitution, legislation on private franchises must begin exclusively with the House of Representatives.
Secondly, Senators Poe, Francis Pangilinan and Ralph Recto should have inhibited themselves from the proceedings because of conflict of interest.
Poe’s mother, film actress Susan Roces, works for ABS-CBN, and her family is supposedly paid royalties for airing past movies of her late father, film star Fernando Poe Jr. Pangilinan’s wife, actress Sharon Cuneta, has commercial links with ABS-CBN. Recto’s wife, actress Vilma Santos, also has business ties with ABS-CBN.
It seems that the senators went on with the hearing anyway, because of the free publicity they can generate from the live television coverage of the hearing, done by ABS-CBN.
The hearing was supposed to be about the legal issues as to whether the ABS-CBN franchise should be renewed or otherwise.
For a while, the issue of political advertisements aired and not aired by ABS-CBN during the 2016 elections was taken up, but it was short lived.
Under Poe’s orchestration, the hearing became a forum for condemning the non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise because it will mean unemployment for the network’s 11,000 workers.
According to tax documents, however, the network only has 4,000 employees.
Union leaders of ABS-CBN made an emotional appeal to the senators with their simplistic statement that they will lose their jobs and their families will suffer if the network’s franchise is not renewed.
Speaking in broken English, Senators Poe, Juan Edgardo Angara, Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros and Joel Villanueva directed their leading questions to ABS-CBN executives and employees. Their questions were designed to trigger answers emphasizing the loss of employment for the network’s employees.
What the senators surprisingly missed is that job security is not an excuse for violating mandatory provisions of the Constitution, a charge ABS-CBN is facing in the quo warranto case.
Pangilinan displayed his bias for ABS-CBN by citing the local government taxes annually paid by ABS-CBN to the Quezon City government.
After learning that the value of ABS-CBN shares of stock went down from P60 to just P16, Pangilinan sweepingly concluded that the non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise will create a “chilling effect” on press freedom.
Press freedom is not an issue in the franchise hearing. The real issue is ABS-CBN’s alleged non-compliance with the Constitution, as alleged by Solicitor General Jose Calida in his petition for quo warranto now pending in the Supreme Court.
In his obvious appeal for the votes of ABS-CBN employees, Pangilinan conveniently forgot that compliance with constitutional requirements is just as important as press freedom as a constitutional right.
Film director Joel Lamangan, whose sympathy seems to be with ABS-CBN, echoed Pangilinan’s opinion and expressed the biased view, with frequent emotional outbursts, that the non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise violates press freedom. Like Pangilinan, Lamangan obviously does not understand the Constitution.
In a clumsy attempt to be populist, Tolentino asked irrelevant questions and urged the ABS-CBN management to allow the network’s employees to be part owners of the network.
Sen. Ralph Recto said ABS-CBN’s alleged violations of the Constitution do not warrant the non-renewal of its franchise. He does not realize that if ABS-CBN violated the Constitution and Congress still renews the network’s franchise, that renewal will be attended with grave abuse of discretion enough to warrant its annulment by the Supreme Court.
Broadcast journalist Roby Alampay delivered an irrelevant harangue so much so that Poe had to ask him to get straight to his point. Alampay eventually insinuated that the franchise should be renewed.
Gamaliel Cordoba, a commissioner of the National Telecommunications Commission, did not discount the possibility that the NTC may issue to ABS-CBN a provisional permit to operate, pending congressional deliberations on its franchise.
Nobody asked ABS-CBN president Carlo Katigbak why the network claims to be 65 years in the service of the Filipino, when it did not operate during the 14 years of martial law.