By now, my position on the ABS-CBN is crystal clear. The Solicitor General’s (SolGen) petition for the revocation of ABS-CBN’s franchise is a form of prior restraint and hence, presumed unconstitutional. But come expiration of its franchise and Congress does not renew the same, the station cannot cry violation of freedom of the press. As confirmed by no less than former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, without a franchise, the station simply cannot operate. This, he explained, was the ruling of the Supreme Court in the case of Associated Communications & Wireless Services versus NTC. In the said case, the Court held: “…the legislative intent is to continue requiring a franchise for the operation of radio and television broadcasting stations.”
Is ABS-CBN entitled to resort to its current intensive public relations campaign to persuade Congress to renew its franchise? Of course, it is! And yes, it has done so with seeming success. Perhaps the pivotal event that may result in its renewed franchise was the recent Senate hearing where its top management apologized to the President and the latter accepted it. The hearing also confirmed that contrary to the allegations of the SolGen, ABS-CBN has no debts to the government and that its pay per view scheme; as well as its Depository receipts, have the requisite government approvals.
But where I do have a very serious concern is how a politician like Sen. Grace Poe can wantonly disregard both Constitutional and legal prohibitions against conflicts of interest.
For sure Sen. Poe’s conflict of interest as far as ABS-CBN is admitted. She did so yesterday in an interview with Karen Davila. In that interview, she acknowledged that her mother is a talent of the station and that she receives royalties from the stations’ airing of FPJ’s movies.
The Constitution itself requires both disclosure and a prohibition on legislators from having conflicts of interest in matters pending before them. Article VI Section 12 provides that members of Congress shall “notify the House concerned of a potential conflict of interest that may arise from the filing of a proposed legislation of which they are authors.” Further Section 14 of the same provides: “Neither shall he, directly or indirectly, be interested financially in any …franchise granted by the Government, …during his term of office.” Moreover, Section 7(a) of the Salonga law, otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees., expressly prohibits all government workers, including, or should I say, especially those in high offices, “from having directly or indirectly, any financial or material interest in any transaction requiring the approval of their office.” Unless my readings of the foregoing provisions of the constitution and the law are wrong, I submit Grace Poe committed an unconstitutional and a criminal act.
Obviously, the grant of a franchise is one exclusively lodged with Congress. As such. she should not have participated, more so presided, over a Senate investigation that deals precisely with possible breaches of an existing franchise, the renewal of which is currently pending in her office. Full Stop. It is not a defense, as she alleged — that this conflict of interest is already publicly known and need not been declared. Where the Constitution does not provide for exception in the reporting of such conflicts, a Senator cannot make an exception. And worse, by stating that she led the investigation “to let the nation know her stand on the issue”, she knowingly and wantonly breached both the constitutional and legal prohibitions against legislators having a financial interest in matters pending before them.
The point is, had she followed the Constitution and the law, the hearing could still have been conducted as obviously, she is only one of twenty-four Senators. Even if she is chairman of the Committee on Public Services, the committee’s vice-chairman could have presided over the same. In other words, Sen. Poe’s participation in that hearing was not indispensable.
Ultimately, the question goes beyond delicadeza as obviously, the senator probably does not care for such. The issue is why a senator, who knew about both her conflict of interest and should have known the prohibition against it, would wantonly violate the Constitution and the law and not have any remorse for it! By golly, legislators are supposed to legislate normative values important to mankind. But here now is a senator flaunting violations of no less than the Constitution and saying she did so that the nation will know her stand on the matter! Goodness, a press release or a privilege speech in this regard would have sufficed for that purpose.
Ultimately, the danger in what Sen. Poe did was it may encourage one and all to violate constitutional and legal prohibitions when it suits their personal interests. Her gain here goes beyond the royalties that she earns from the network and extends to the debt of gratitude that the network will owe her. This can then be translated into airtime and editorial favors come the 2022 elections.
Make no mistake about it: Grace Poe made a mockery of our Constitution and our laws to suit her political ambition of becoming President. If and when she does become President, that’s the time for all Filipinos to migrate from this country. For clearly, she has just been proven to one and all that as a shameless law breaker, she could not possible be trusted to implement the laws of the land.