Press Release
February 20, 2020

Excerpts from the ANC's Interview with Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon
Headstart with Karen Davila
20 February 2020

Q: You filed a resolution extending the franchise of ABS-CBN, is that necessary and does that hold water?

SFMD: It is necessary, because there are Supreme Court decisions that say that the National Telecommunication Commission cannot issue an operating permit without a franchise being granted to the licensee. That has been settled by the Supreme Court. Therefore on April 1, if there is no extension of the franchise, tapos na. The Solicitor General will go to the Supreme Court and say, I am asking you to enjoin the ABS-CBN from further broadcasting because they have no franchise. We have filed this because we have no more time to tackle the franchise renewal. Congress has only seven session days and by the time we come back in May, the franchise ahs already expired. I filed this resolution in order to give Congress time to review. It is not for ABS-CBN, it is for Congress to have time to review the very serious allegations raised by the Solicitor General in the Supreme Court, which cannot be tackle din the remaining time.

Q: Some congressmen have said that ABS-CBN won't stop operating and it extends up to July 2022. Do you believe that?

SFMD: No. That is a view expressed by politicians or lawmakers on the floors both of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Supreme Court ruled that a franchisee cannot anymore operate as a broadcast station if there is no longer a franchise. Of course there is this view but you are taking the risk that the Supreme Court will rule otherwise as it has ruled in some cases.

I am just saying that I do not want to risk the livelihood of 11,000 ABS-CBN employees on a theory that ABS-CBN and its 11,000 workers can continue after March 30 without a franchise.

Let me make it very clear, once enacted our joint resolution has the effect and force of a law and it must be approved by the President.

Q: Are you optimistic that the lower house will even act on a Senate-initiated resolution?

SFMD: They said, vote according to your conscience. Hopefully their conscience will bother them if 11,000 employees would lose their job. Somebody said yesterday that I am playing politics by proposing a three-year extension, I say that if trying to save the jobs of 11,000 employees is politics, then I admit I am playing politics. I do not think that's the motive. I think we should not attribute motive to fellow legislators.

Q: On Monday, the Senate will hold a hearing, many have asked, is that relevant at this point when it should emanate from the HoR?

SFMD: It is relevant, because given the fact we only have seven session days, we must have inputs while it is pending in the HoR. We cannot wait for the HoR to transmit it to us before we can decide. At least we have inputs but we will not report out the committee report until we receive something from the HoR.

Q: By having a Senate hearing, doesn't this violate the sub judice rule?

SFMD: It doesn't apply to us, because it is clear that the sub judice rule is applicable to court. In Congress, legislative hearings are not supposed to decide who is right or wrong. We are having our hearings in aid of legislation to assist us as to how to act on a particular matter in the exercise of our oversight functions. As decided by the Supreme Court, no court has the authority to prohibit the Committee from requiring respondent to appear and testify before it."

Q: Is the quo warranto the proper procedure at this point?

SFMD: In my view, Congress is the proper venue and has the jurisdiction, because whether or not the ABS-CBN has violated the terms of its franchise would have to be passed upon by Congress, because we are in the process of renewing it. In other words, if we find violation, then we don't renew. Also, the franchise is expiring on March 30 and the Supreme Court would not be able to rule on this by then, then it will become moot and academic.

Q: You already said that Congress is the proper venue, why cannot Congress file a petition and say that it is within our jurisdiction?

SFMD: We do not have to do that. We will just assert. In other words, we are a separate and independent body and we can certainly assert that we have jurisdiction and we can conduct our own hearing. It is only where there is a violation of the Constitution that the Supreme Court can tell us, "Mr. Congress, stop." As long as there is no Constitutional issue, we can continue. Whether or not the grant of a franchise is a prerogative of Congress is not a Constitutional issue.

Q: The SolGen does not have the same purview believing that a quo warranto is a way to revoke a franchise.

SFMD: We believe otherwise.

Q: Under what grounds can a franchise be revoked? Because we 've already heard Speaker Cayetano said that ABS-CBN "so to speak" involved itself in elections? Is it editorial judgment?

SFMD: The editorial content and judgment are not grounds to revoke a franchise. The terms of the operation of franchise are outlined in the franchise itself. For example, a franchise holder must operate the franchise within two years and if you do not operate, it can be cancelled. Two, a franchise holder cannot transfer a franchise without the consent of Congress and if you transfer that to another person, the franchise is cancelled. For instance, the ABS-CBN, the stockholders, will transfer the shares to another entity without the consent of Congress, then there is violation of the franchise and the franchise can be cancelled. Certainly, editorial content is not a ground for cancelling the franchise, because that smacks of violation of the freedom of the press and it can be even viewed as a prior restraint which is violative of the freedom of speech.

Q: Do you see this as a freedom of the press issue?

SFMD: Inevitably freedom of the press will be involved, because in our mind, the cancellation of the franchise is not based on Constitutional issues but on something else. And that has been mentioned by some of those who are supporting the administration that certain practices of the ABS-CBN is the last election were less than desired.

Q: On the VFA

SFMD: The petition that the Senate President has asked me to join is a petition asking the Supreme Court to define the rights of the Senate vis-à-vis the power of the President to unilaterally terminate the VFA or any other treaty. That is an issue that is open, because it has never been decided. Eve in the US government, where we patterned our political practices, there is no set rule as to whether the President can unilaterally terminate a treaty without the participation of Congress. This is a very substantial issue. Why? Because if the President is allowed to terminate a treaty without the concurrence of the Senate, then, theoretically, the President can terminate our membership with the United Nations; the President can terminate our ASEAN Cooperation Agreement. The President can terminate our WTO. This has major consequences that it should not be only a unilateral act of the President, but it should be a shared authority by the Senate and the President. Why? Because when the President enters into a treaty, it would need the concurrence of the Senate before it can be effective.

If in the ratification we participate, in the withdrawal we should also participate. In the United States, the legal scholars call this the "mirror principle," which means the process of withdrawal should mirror the process of approval. You cannot have one process for approval and another process for termination. This is the issue which we will bring to the Supreme Court and the VFA is just incidental.

Q: In 2018, you filed a petition questioning the ICC withdrawal, what was the action of the SC?

SFMD:It is still pending.

Q: Exactly.

SFMD: And maybe to urge the Supreme Court to act, I intend to ask the Senate to have a stand as an institution. It would "force" the SC to act on the petition if really it becomes the sense of the Senate.

Q: Many have asked why the Constitution is silent on this?

SFMD:We copied our Constitution from the America. It specifies concurrence. We follow that. In America, their Constitution does not provide the process of termination, we also followed that. It is a pending issue in the American legal system and it is also a pending issue here.

SFMD: When we terminate treaties unilaterally, what happens? There are a lot of complications and there are a lot of policy issues that, in our view, the Congress should participate, because it involves policy issues.

Q: Some experts say that there are double standards, because in the Mislatel franchise, you debated on that in Congress.

SFMD: In the particular case of ABS-CBN, there is an issue on the acquisition by ABS-CBN Convergence of a franchise from another person. It is asserted that the transfer of this franchise to ABS-CBN Convergence was without authority. The interpretation of Congress of that particular requirement has been very liberal by the action of Congress in Mislatel franchise. In Mislatel franchise, the original franchise owner, let's say Mr. X, Mr. X transferred the franchise to Mr. Y without congressional approval and Mr. Y transferred the franchise to the company owned by Mr. Dennis Uy. That is now the interpretation, a very liberal interpretation. At that point if you were going to be strict about it and apply that principle, the franchise that is transferred to Dennis Uy is no longer valid and, one more thing, the original holder of the franchise did not operate within two years. On those two grounds, the franchise is deemed void. I dissented but the Congress approved the franchise.

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