Senator Sherwin Gatchalian is backing a resolution by Senator Grace Poe for the Senate Committee on Public Services, which she chairs, to hold hearings on alleged franchise violations of network giant ABS-CBN.
Poe filed her Senate Resolution 322 on Wednesday in response to a quo warranto petition that Solicitor General Jose Calida filed before the Supreme Court early this week.
Calida sought to nullify ABS-CBN’s franchise that will expire next month.
In an interview at the Senate on Thursday, Gatchalian said he supports the planned Senate probe as it could serve as a neutral ground to discover whether or not the allegations against the network are true.
He noted that the hearing is part of the Senate’s oversight function over any franchise and not just ABS-CBN as mandated by the Constitution and the Senate Rules.
“Mahalagang mapag-usapan natin kung itong allegations against ABS ay may basehan. This is through an oversight function of the Senate,” Gatchalian said.
“This is a good venue para makita natin kung may katotohanan talaga ang kanilang allegations,” he added.
While the hearing is not for a franchise renewal, the senator said the probe may also be a way for Senate to speed up the process if the network’s franchise reaches the Senate.
“Itong gagawing oversight hearing, hindi ibig sabihin maa-approve ang franchise dahil manggagaling pa yan sa Kongreso eh. Kung anuman ang lumabas sa oversight, doesn’t mean maa-approve ang franchise. In this particular case, ang franchise ay mag-uumpisa yan sa Kongreso at aakyat sa Senado,” he explained.
“Assuming, pagdating dito ng franchise ng ABS, ganun din. Pag-uusapan rin namin ang performance ng ABS, kung ano ang pagkukulang ng ABS at kung merong tumututol, ano ang kanilang allegations?” he said.
“Iba ang takbo sa Kongreso dahil independent body yan, co-equal ng Senado at dapat nga itong oversight, mag-umpisa sa kanila eh. Ito ang magiging basehan nila sa pag-approve at ita-transmit sa Senado,” he added.
The Senator also said that the petition filed by Calida is unnecessary as the network’s franchise will automatically expire on March 30.
When asked if President Rodrigo Duterte can appear in the hearing if he wants to, Gatchalian said, “As a general rule, anyone can participate.”
He further noted that the “committee can invite anyone,” even the President.
“The Senate can invite kung gugustuhin ng committee… The committee can request from the President his opinion regarding this oversight hearing,” the Senator said.
“As a rule, anyone who can help shed light on the allegation and can substantiate the allegations, pwedeng imbitahin. It can be through a letter, through a council. Nakita naman natin in the past that President and Secretaries can be represented by their counsels,” he added.
Duterte has been issuing threats to not renew the franchise of ABS-CBN since 2017 following accusations that the network did not air his political advertisements during the 2016 presidential campaign.
But Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo has always distanced the President from the franchise woes of ABS-CBN.
He said Duterte does not care about the renewal of the license of the Lopez-led network.
According to Gatchalian, the oversight hearing “can happen soon.”
There are at least 11 pending bills seeking franchise renewal for ABS-CBN.
However, the House of Representatives has yet to act on them since the earliest was filed in August 2019.
Under the law, the Senate cannot act on the pending bills seeking ABS-CBN franchise renewal unless the House approves it.
Before the interview ended, Gatchalian also mentioned the President’s power to refuse to approve a bill or joint resolution passed by the Senate.
“We also have to remember na kahit na i-approve yan ng Senado, the President has veto powers,” he said.
“So for example, i-approve ng Senado at House, the President has veto powers,” he concluded.