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Sotto’s ABS-CBN bill is unconstitutional

Senators cannot pretend not to know that if they are responsible for getting ABS-CBN a new legislative franchise, a grateful ABS-CBN will most certainly be helpful to their campaign.

Victor Avecilla

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Senate President Vicente Sotto III is sponsoring a bill that will grant the ABS-CBN broadcast network a fresh, new franchise to operate for a period of 25 years. At least 15 senators expressed their support for Sotto’s proposal.

Good grief! That bill violates Section 24, Article VI of the Constitution, which states “All appropriation, revenue or tariff bills, bills authorizing increase of the public debt, bills of local application, and private bills shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments.”

Sotto’s proposal is a private bill, which falls squarely within Section 24, Article VI of the Constitution. That means the Sotto bill is doomed, because it does not conform to the Constitution.

It has been just six months since the House of Representatives voted against granting a new franchise to ABS-CBN. Why is the Senate pushing for a new franchise for the broadcast network in so short a time?

Last Saturday, a commentary published in this newspaper enumerated several reasons why ABS-CBN is disqualified from getting a new legislative franchise to operate. That commentary pointed out that a legislative franchise is a privilege which may be issued only to the truly deserving, and ABS-CBN fails in that regard.

As far as the House of Representatives is concerned, ABS-CBN violated not only the constitutional ban against alien ownership and management of mass media in the Philippines, but also the terms and conditions stated in its legislative franchise.

From the perspective of the House, therefore, those violations are enough reasons not to issue a new legislative franchise to ABS-CBN.

This newspaper has also exposed the illegality of the so-called “blocktime deal” between ABS-CBN and ZOE Broadcasting, which allowed ABS-CBN to circumvent the Constitution and the law, and to remain on the air even without a legislative franchise. That matter should also be investigated by both Congress and the National Telecommunications Commission before the House should even begin to entertain the possibility of granting a new franchise for ABS-CBN.

At the end of the day, since the broadcasting industry is attended with a high degree of public interest, the prudent thing for Congress to do is to ascertain if ABS-CBN is truly worthy of getting a new legislative franchise, in the light of the many revelations and accusations against it.

If Congress grants a new franchise to ABS-CBN notwithstanding both the substantiated revelations and the unresolved accusations made against ABS-CBN, that grant is assailable in the Supreme Court for having been made with grave abuse of discretion.

Senators and representatives who have direct or indirect interests in getting ABS-CBN back on the air should take heed of the possibility that if they vote in favor of a new franchise for ABS-CBN, they may be courting anti-graft charges.

Under the pertinent provisions of Section 3 of Republic Act 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and under Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, a member of Congress who or whose relatives have business ties and interests with a franchise applicant votes affirmatively for the franchise can be held criminally liable for the same.

Based on existing published accounts, at least four senators and at least three House members and/or their relatives have business ties and interests in ABS-CBN.

Observers note that with the election season just nine months away, several senators are already preparing to get themselves and their partymates reelected.

The senators cannot pretend not to know that if they are responsible for getting ABS-CBN a new legislative franchise, a grateful ABS-CBN will most certainly be helpful to their campaign. That gratitude may take the form of free publicity (in the guise of news coverage) during the campaign season, and preferential treatment in billings for advertising campaign spots.

Noisemakers in the House of Representatives who stand to gain by granting ABS-CBN a new franchise are sure to join the Senate bandwagon and pressure their counterparts in the Batasang Pambansa to join them. That way, they hope to get into the good graces of ABS-CBN just as well.

This newspaper will monitor and expose these political opportunists.

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