President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he accepted the apology of broadcast giant ABS-CBN but said he could not ask the Office of the Solicitor-General to withdraw a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court seeking to nullify the network’s franchise.
The President also said he would not accept the P2.6 million that the network vowed to return to him over unaired political ads during the 2016 elections, adding that ABS-CBN should donate it instead to a charitable institution of its choice.
“I accept the apology, of course,” President Duterte told reporters in a chance interview in Malacañang.
Duterte maintained that he did not instruct Solicitor General Jose Calida to file a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court which seeks to revoke the network’s existing franchise.
He also said he cannot ask Calida to withdraw the petition despite ABS-CBN’s apology.
“I cannot tell him to stop. The SolGen can always announce that there is a violation of law. And he can investigate it. I cannot tell him, ‘Do not do it. Stop it,’” Duterte added.
Duterte also said he leaves it to the Congress to act on the pending bills seeking to grant another 25-year franchise to ABS-CBN.
Earlier this year, he had vowed that the franchise would not be renewed, but on Wednesday, he said he would resign if any lawmaker would say he has been pressuring Congress over the renewal.
Appearing at a Senate hearing on Monday, ABS-CBN Corp. president Carlo Katigbak said it was not the intention of the company to not air Duterte’s campaign ads.
He said that of the P182-million commercial spots bought by Duterte in 2016, P7 million worth of ads was not aired. He also said the network was delayed in refunding P2.6 million to the Duterte campaign.
Duterte had repeatedly threatened he would block the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN—a move seen by critics as an infringement on freedom of expression.
The Supreme Court will start deliberating the quo warranto petition seeking to revoke the franchise of ABS-CBN Corp. on March 10.
The head of the Court’s Public Information Office, Brian Keith Hosaka said this would give the justices enough time to go over the pleadings submitted by the parties, including the comments recently filed by the respondents.
In seeking the forfeiture of the franchises of ABS-CBN its subsidiary ABS-CBN Convergence, Calida accused the respondents various abuses, including illegal pay-per-view offering and foreign ownership.
A labor group “Defend Job Philippines” asked the Court to uphold the jobs of some 11,000 employees of the broadcast company, and safeguard press freedom and the Filipino people’s right to information.
The labor group’s spokesman, Thadeus Ifurung, said now was the best time for the justices to prove their independence from the two other branches of government.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon filed on Wednesday a concurrent resolution that would allow ABS-CBN to continue to operate pending the renewal of its franchise.
Drilon filed Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 6 expressing the sense of the upper chamber that ABS-CBN Corp. “should be allowed to operate under the terms of its existing franchise pending final determination of the renewal of its franchise by the 18th Congress.
The network’s franchise expires on May 4, and with only eight session days remaining before Congress goes on a break starting March 13, lawmakers will need more time to discuss the network’s franchise bid, Drilon said.
He added that Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said a concurrent resolution may be in order for the National Telecommunications Commission to allow ABS-CBN to operate when its franchise expires in May.
“Secretary Guevarra said that on grounds of equity, the ABS-CBN can continue. Again, this is an opinion expressed by no less than the secretary of Justice, whose opinion is binding on the entire executive branch, so this must be extended due respect,” he said.
The said resolution also seeks the issuance by the National Telecommunications Commission of the appropriate provisional authority to the media giant as bills on its franchise renewal remain pending in Congress.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has criticized the Senate for taking up the franchise issue, when bills such as this should emanate from the House of Representatives.
But Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate public services committee, defended her panel’s hearings.
“We did it because it’s the right thing to do, to hear it because there are many people who are affected by this issue,” Poe said, acknowleding the chilling effect that cancelling ABS-CBN’s franchise would have on press freedom.
“That is the start of the chipping away of our democracy,” she said.
Poe also shot back at Cayetano for saying senators were trying to suck up to ABS-CBN, saying that such name calling cheapens the debate.
Senator Manny Pacquiao, who has co-authored a bill in the Senate seeking to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise, said this did not mean he was going against the President.
“I always support and love the President. I have repeatedly said that I love the President. I always support the President, I’m not going against him and I support all his advocacies,” he said.
Pacquiao said he was worried about the thousands of employees who would go jobless if the franchise is not renewed.
Senator Christopher Go, a constant companion and close aide of the President, said politics was behind Drilon’s resolution.
He said the extension of the network’s franchise until 2022 would deprive the President of the power to approve or veto the franchise renewal, since Duterte’s term would have ended by then.
Go said he was more inclined to support the bill filed by Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. seeking to extend the franchise until the end of the year.
Drilon denied Go’s allegations.
“I regret the statement of Senator Bong Go. Being a neophyte senator, he may not be aware of our tradition and our rules. Precisely, a concurrent resolution does not go through the President because it has no force and effect of a law. It is just a sense of the Senate. There is no politics here,” he told reporters.
“We are not depriving the President of the right to veto or approve,” he said.
Revilla said his bill would give lawmakers enough time to deliberate on ABS-CBN’s franchise.
The House committee on legislative franchises chairman and Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez wrote a letter to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) Commissioner enjoining the agency to grant a provisional authority to operate effectively from May 4, 2020 until such time that the Congress has made a decision on its application.
This came after Cayetano said that ABS-CBN Corporation will be able to continue their broadcast while Congress is deliberating on the renewal of its franchise.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez joined the bandwagon by filing House Joint Resolution 29 extending the franchise of ABS CBN until May 4, 2021.
In the letter dated Feb. 26, 2020 and addressed to NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, Alvarez and Cayetano informed the NTC that the House Committee on Legislative Franchises has started deliberating on ABS-CBN Corporation’s (ABS-CBN) application for the renewal of its franchise. They noted that the said committee has instructed all interested parties to submit their position papers for or against ABS-CBN’s application within a period of 60 days from Feb 24, 2020.
The letter underscored that the House of Representatives has the exclusive original jurisdiction and authority to act on franchise applications.
In the same letter, the two House leaders enjoined the NTC to grant ABS-CBN Corporation’s subsidiaries or affiliates, whose franchise applications are pending deliberation with the House committee on legislative franchises, the same provisional authority.