After assuring Senate will back ABS-CBN franchise renewal, Sotto abstains from vote to reverse NTC order

May 11, 2020 - 9:12 PM
Tito Sotto on May 5
Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III banging a gavel as the upper house adopts Senate Resolution 395 on May 11, 2020. (Senate PRIB/Henzberg Austria)

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III on Monday abstained from voting on the Senate resolution seeking to reverse the National Telecommunications Commission‘s cease-and-desist order against ABS-CBN.

His abstention came after a week of saying that the upper House would “approve” the legislative franchise of the network.

Senate Resolution 395, principally authored by Sen. Risa Hontiveros, asserts that the “Filipino people deserve access to up-to-date news provided by a free and unfettered media” and that “multiple sources of information provide the best pathways for truth to emerge” amid a public health crisis.

“Equally important, the cease and desist order against ABS-CBN will impact on 13,000 of its workers, creating joblessness that could not be more ill-timed given the looming economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” it adds.

The resolution likewise states that it would not be the first time the NTC would allow the continuous operations of an entity despite its franchise expiration.

It cited PT&T, Globe Innove and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines as examples of organizations allowed to continue operation after franchise lapse.

The resolution was adopted after 12 senators gave affirmative votes.

Sen. Richard Gordon, who was not a signatory, reportedly voted in favor of the resolution as well.

Nine senators abstained and explained that the issue “has already been filed in the Supreme Court” and that the network’s franchise renewal “should emanate from the House of Representatives.”

Those who abstained were Sotto and senators Pia Cayetano, Ping Lacson, Francis Tolentino, Cynthia Villar, Imee Marcos, Bato Dela Rosa, Bong Go and Bong Revilla Jr.

The vote which highly gained attention, however, was that of the third most powerful public official in the government, Sotto.

‘Consistency, please?’ 

Some Filipino social media users noticed that Sotto failed to approve the resolution despite previously tweeting that the Senate “will approve” the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN once it reaches the upper house.

“Tito Sotto is the disappointment I never want to be. Wala man lang palabra de honor,” another Twitter user wrote.

“Palabra de honor” translates to “word of honor” in Spanish.

“Tito Sotto, consistency please? Anyare ghorl?” another online user commented as she tagged the lawmaker’s Twitter account.

Another Filipino social media user suggested that Sotto’s “liked” tweets on the microblogging platform reveal a number of posts aimed against the network’s franchise renewal, as well as remarks against its owners and homegrown talents.

The online user took a screengrab of some of the tweets which were liked by the senator after he tweeted that the Senate “will approve” the network’s franchise.

Sotto’s latest tweet so far dates May 5, where he wrote: “ABS Franchise, bring it to the Senate, we will approve it!”

It has since gained more than 10,000 retweets and more than 88,000 likes on the platform.

Senate President Tito Sotto III promising Filipinos that the upper house will approve the ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal. (Screenshot by Interaksyon)

READ: Lawmakers vow to get ABS-CBN back on air

The upper house previously filed a resolution expressing the “sense of the Senate” in “authorizing the NTC to issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN Corporation, its subsidiaries and/or affiliates” under terms that the state regulator may deem necessary.

Roles of the upper and lower house in franchise renewals 

Under Republic Act 3846 or the act providing for the regulation of radio stations and radio communications in the Philippines, television and radio networks operating in the country must seek a franchise from the Congress since the government “owns the airwaves in the atmosphere” within Philippine territory, reports note.

The government through Congress “rents” the airwaves to different telecommunication entities like Smart Communications, Globe Telecom and ABS-CBN for 25 years to provide service for the Filipinos.

Approving a franchise begins in the government’s legislative branch, particularly the lower house. A representative from the chamber must file a bill for an entity’s franchise renewal.

The bill must pass the House of Representatives before it reaches the upper house or the Senate, which also holds separate readings of the proposed measure.

Once it passes the Senate, it needs the signature of the president for it to finally become a law. It can also lapse into law if the chief executive fails to sign it, provided he does not veto.

The Malacañang previously said that President Rodrigo Duterte has no reason to veto the bill seeking to renew the network’s franchise.

At least 11 bills seeking its franchise renewal remain pending in Congress. Of which, nine measures were introduced to the 18th Congress in 2019. 

RELATED: Blame game at the House of Representatives as ABS-CBN franchise renewal bills remain pending