MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said it is unconstitutional for the Senate to deliberate on the bills renewing ABS-CBN's franchise without waiting for the House of Representatives.
On Thursday, February 20, a visibly irked Cayetano said no less than the 1987 Constitution mandates that all legislative franchise bills must first originate from the House, so it puzzles him why Senate public services committee chairperson Grace Poe already set a hearing on ABS-CBN's franchise renewal for Monday, February 24.
"Nagtataka lang ako kay Senator Grace Poe at sa mga senador, kapag cha-cha (charter change) pinag-usapan, ayaw nila. 'Wag daw muna pag-usapan, pero they feel free to violate the Constitution. Ano ba sabi sa Constitution? Sa’n ba mag-uumpisa ang prangkisa: sa House o sa Senate?" the Speaker said in an ambush interview in Iba, Zambales.
(I'm wondering why Senator Grace Poe and the other senators don't want to talk about charter change. They don't want to talk about it, but they feel free to violate the Constitution. What does the Constitution say? Where do franchises emanate from: the House or the Senate?)
Section 24, Article VI of the Constitution states that all bills on appropriations, revenue, tariffs, authorizing the increase of public debt, bills of local application, and private bills "shall originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments."
In a separate statement, Cayetano said a legislative franchise is considered a private bill, as it is a "proposal for a law that would apply to a particular individual or group of individuals, or corporate entity, in this case ABS-CBN."
Cayetano, who has an axe to grind against ABS-CBN, plans to schedule House hearings on the franchise renewal only in May or August. ABS-CBN's current franchise, however, will expire on March 30.
But Poe believes her committee isn't doing anything illegal by planning a Senate hearing ahead of the House.
She cited the times when the Senate kicked off its own hearings on the General Appropriations Act (GAA) and the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law even without the House transmitting its approved version yet.
"Unofficially, meron naman tayong nakakausap na miyembro ng Kongreso ukol dito at sinabi ko naman sa kanila na hindi naman ito paglabag rin ng kanilang kapangyarihan sapagkat nangyari na ito ilang beses na nagkaroon ng hearing ang Senado na hindi pa naman nata-transmit galing sa House, katulad nga ng GAA, at saka pagdating na rin sa TRAIN," Poe said on Monday, February 17.
(Unofficially, we've talked to some members of Congress about this and I told them we're not circumventing their powers here because this has happened in the past, when the Senate held hearings even when the House has not transmitted its approved bill, like with the GAA and TRAIN.)
The chances of ABS-CBN's franchise renewal remain bleak, as both President Rodrigo Duterte and Cayetano – running mates in the 2016 elections – have an axe to grind against the network.