Mon. Jan 24th, 2022

The only solution to the political conundrum that Congress created by sitting on the legislative process on the way to renewing the broadcast franchise of the giant media network ABS-CBN, was precisely to start the legislative process provided by law to begin hearings at the Committee on Legislative Franchise.

Whatever reason its chairman, Franz Alvarez has for refusing to start the job, it has always been and still remains as the least contentious entry point towards enacting a private law giving the applicant another 25 years to operate.

Both Houses of Congress, instead tried a weird way at resolving the issue. And there are many speculations why.

One is that the lawmaking machines wanted to spare ABS-CBN from what could be a gruesome evaluation of the sins of the network in its past 25 years operations.

This starts from basic tax evasion from its unreported dollar-earning business abroad, to unfair trade practices at the expense of small cable operators, to some of its programs that the Catholic Church has expressed derision and dismay, to gross violations of management regulations involving American citizens and virtual ownership by foreigners through the controversial Philippine Depositary Receipts, onto actual partisanship during elections.

Corporate apology

While the corporate apology of ABS-CBN delivered to a Senate hearing by no less than Carlo Katigbak, its president; and the acceptance of the apology by President Rodrigo Duterte, perhaps gave a momentary sigh of relief for the latter’s complaint about how the network failed to air his political ads in the 2016 elections and refused to refund his payments before broadcast (PBB), it did not reverse the sentiments of the “Duterte Diehard Supporters” (DDS) from their silent lobby not to renew the network’s franchise.

Another is machinations by the network of the political environment of the country, its own dalliance with both the US Embassy on one hand and legal fronts of the communist terrorist movements on the other, in connivance with the Liberal Party and its yellow army, in spinning news to foment another “people power” stimulus to remove Duterte from the presidency and install the puppet vice president Leni Robredo, just as it helped do in 2001 when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo replaced President Joseph Estrada in a contrived “constructive resignation” monster legislation enacted through judicial intervention by the Supreme Court.

The almost 90% public approval of Duterte’s governance, and the unequivocal support of the Philippine military and the police for its commander-in-chief, outflanked any adventurism by political wannabes.

The third is that franchise processing has since time immemorial been a source of obscene livelihood for congressmen and senators. In anticipation of the forthcoming 2022 elections, the stakes have gone high that any franchise applicant may have to chalk billions just to satisfy the crocodiles and the vultures in Congress.

The endemically corrupt system included the malicious use of pork barrel that former president BS Aquino III used to crack the whip in Congress, the most notorious of which was the removal of the Chief Justice Rene Corona from office.

This basal corruption, however, has been “verboten” in the Duterte administration as the former mayor of Davao frowned at using pork barrel to peddle its influence in legislation in Congress. This is why this president cannot even have emergency powers granted for him to correct the complicated problems facing say the traffic jams at EDSA and lack of transport infrastructures.

To divert public attention from this unholy change of hands over money, shrewd Congressional leaders attempted to use their counterparts in the executive department as goats for a quick fix pitting Secretary of Justice Menardo Guevarra against National Telecommunications Commission chair Gamaliel Cordoba on the issue of a provisional authority to operate against serious charges of franchise violations filed by Solicitor-General Jose Calida.

The Justice Secretary granted for the sake of argument that since in practice NTC in the past has flexed its quasi-judicial powers to accommodate franchise renewals that were already in the legislative mill, NTC in the same spirit of equity could grant provisional authority good for a few months. The NTC chairman, placed side-by-side Secretary Guevara in an open hearing, was too shy to correct the Cabinet member or even distinguish why it may and why it may not foster an accommodation, creating an expectation setting among Congressional leaders of an alternative expressway for ABS-CBN in the event its former franchise expires.

Unfortunately, an international emergency occurred with the declaration of the World Health Organization of a corona virus pandemic. The whole country faced a lockdown, the whole government had no choice but almost shut all business.

Hello! The ABS-CBN franchise, without a fluke, was to expire May 5, 2020.

The pronouncement especially by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno of a case decided by the Supreme Court, of which he was ponente, dictates that in the absence of any franchise, no operations is allowed, given said jurisprudence.

In compliance with this ruling, the NTC issued a cease and-desist order to ABS-CBN on the same day.

Left with no scapegoat, the otherwise timidity of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano in exhibiting a hands-on involvement in the ABS-CBN controversy reversed in an unprecedented show of political will. He supplanted any action by the Committee on Legislative Franchise by improvising on a Committee of the Whole, passed a bill on First and Second reading on the same day, endorsing the same to for a plenary session, a Third Reading and a final vote.

The Speaker did this with only himself physically present assisted by his cacique adjutants Neptali Gonzalez, Raneo Abu, Roberto Puno, Dan Fernandez, LRay Villafuerte Jr., Ferdinand Romualdez, and Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado in the rape of the usual legislative flowchart.

No quorum was present, the rest of the full house allegedly electronically voted by virtual “zoom”!

Constitutional error

The next day, former Associate Justice Antonio Carpio cautioned senators against approving a bill granting a provisional franchise to ABS-CBN until October 31, 2020 coincidentally with the last day of Cayetano as Speaker, saying this smacked of discrimination against other equally-situated franchises.

Said Carpio: “The senators will be committing the very same constitutional error they want to remedy if they limit the bill to ABS-CBN. If enacted into law, the bill will deny equal protection of the law to other franchisees whose franchises will expire while Congress deliberates on their renewal. Ironically, there will be discrimination in favor of ABS-CBN.”

“To cure this infirmity,” he added that “the bill should be generic, applicable to all broadcast and telecommunication franchisees similarly situated, and retroactive to January 1, 2020, covering the present and future Congresses.”

The former associate justice said, “any extension of the term of a broadcast or telecommunications franchise must be embodied in a law. Without a franchise embodied in a law, a broadcast or telecommunications company cannot operate and cannot be issued any authority by the NTC. This was the ruling of the Supreme Court in the 2003 case of Associated Communications vs NTC.”

In a parallel move, Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez said he will move to recall the approval on second reading of the bill granting ABS-CBN a provisional franchise until October 2020 to cure a “question of constitutionality” in relation to the passage of measures on separate days.

Rodriguez said it is “very clear” in Article VI Section 26 (2) of the Constitution which states that “no bill passed by either House shall become a law unless it has passed three readings on separate days, and printed copies thereof in its final form have been distributed to its Members three days before its passage, except when the President certifies to the necessity of its immediate enactment to meet a public calamity or emergency.”

During House’s session on May 13, the lower chamber convened into a “Committee of the Whole” to tackle House Bill No. 6732, granting ABS-CBN a provisional franchise until October 31, 2020.

After the Committee of the Whole’s approval, the bill was immediately deliberated and eventually approved on second reading on the same day.

Under the Constitution, franchise bills must emanate from the House before it can be tackled in Senate plenary. Once approved by the Senate, both chambers have to ratify the reconciled bill before it can be transmitted to the President for his signature.

Note that this issue on the unconstitutionality has also been raised by Senator Francis Pangilinan, the president of the opposition Liberal Party.

Haste makes waste

In Latin, we call this “properans deserta” or haste makes waste.

Once again, I will advertise the title of my first book published five years ago in the height of the South China Seas controversy – “The Filipino has a problem for every solution.”

The mess that ABS-CBN is of course first and foremost guilty because of ABS-CBN’s own ambivalence in subjecting itself to the due process that law prescribes.

It filed its first renewal application in 2014 but was met by severe opposition by 600 small cable operators throughout the country for unfair trade practices. After engaging  Noynoy Aquino in a pissing contest (to borrow the words of Ambassador Rigoberto Tiglao), the Lopezes withdrew its application in 2016 in the hope that his successor would be Mar Roxas, the presidential candidate ABS-CBN supported.

Luck became even more elusive as Duterte, the “Probinsyano” it short-changed, won by a landslide. In a pit of anger, the new president exposed the raw deal he was given by the network, and said he will not sign ABS-CBN’s renewal even if Congress passes the bill.

This is maybe why it did not file in 2016, 2017 and 2018 but waited for a cooling off to reapply as late as January 2019, a year before the expiration of its franchise.

Or it may be due to unmitigated hubris born since sending President Elpidio Quirino to his knees in the 1950s over a scam involving the Government Service and Insurance System (GSIS), when brothers Fernando and Eugenio Lopez became the strongest power brokers not just in Philippine politics but economics.

In short, their heirs may have still hoped they enjoyed the force of divine intervention. But really, it could be mere avoidance of transparency.

Investigate abuses

To which, no less than the President’s son, Congressman Paolo Duterte, has filed a House resolution to investigate abuses of the network. The skeletons in ABS-CBN’s closet have been kept for the longest time and must be exposed, not just in aid of legislation but as a catharsis for its sins against the people’s morals, in a surprise suggestion by Bishop Soc Villegas himself.

I will quote the prelate in Tagalog.

“Panawagan ko naman sa ABS-CBN na gamitin ang sandaling ito upang suriin ang sarili at magnilay-nilay tungkol sa misyon para sa lipunan. Sana ay iwanan na ang malalaswa at magagaspang na programa sa telebisyon. Hindi nakakatulong kung ang napagagamit ang TV sa pagsira ng kagandahang asal at kulturang Pilipino.

“May mas mahalaga kasya sa top rating. Pangunahin ang pagtataguyod ng karunungan at mabuting asal. Huwag matakot mamintas at pumuna, ngunit gawin ito para sa kabutihan ng lahat at batay lagi sa katotohanan.”

The only way out of this impasse is a simple compliance with legislative processes, which the House of Representatives, for yet undetermined reason, has yet failed to prompt in the Alvarez committee.

As a result, Speaker Cayetano moved for a provisional, not a generic franchise.

In an earlier column, I condemned that not only as an infraction of Congressional own rules and a shameless violation of the Constitution but a cunning, dodgy, crafty, insidious, foxy, coon, canny and shrewd hocus pocus of a master magician to force his will.

Cayetano is riding two horses to better his chances at the 2022 presidential elections. The hocus is to satisfy the immediate lust of the Lopez oligarchy to operate as some have claimed it stands to lose P30 million a day off-the-the-air. The pocus is not to provoke President Duterte whom he knows will never sign a generic franchise for the network.

This gay strategy, however, has created an even bloodier maze because the people now has awakened to the new normal and will not condone any affront to our democracy.

It’s not handwashing and social distancing as an offshoot of the coronavirus pandemic but the rule of law to foster the national interest and launch a peaceful revolution to expunge the evil influence of the oligarchies, the caciques, the corrupt and demagogues in our government and society. (ia/

(Editor’s note: The use of ‘gay improv’ on the headline was borrowed from San Diego’s “The Big Gay Improv Show,” a quarterly fundraiser at Diversionary Theatre participated by a team of San Diego’s finest improvisers who present a montage of hilarious scenes that are totally made up on the spot and inspired by the real life stories of two guest monologists from the LGBT community.)

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