‘We cannot wallow in fear’: Cayetano, House leadership urged to tackle ABS-CBN franchise renewal

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 11)— Lawmakers on Tuesday called on the leadership of the House of Representatives to act and begin discussions on the renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN, following Solicitor General Jose Calida’s petition seeking to cancel the existing license of the media network.

Cagayan De Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun— allied with the administration and minority blocs, respectively— urged their colleagues to exercise Congressional power amid an “intrusion” from a different branch of the government.

Wala pang signal sa itaas (there’s no go signal from the leaders). Now is the time to insist on our powers—otherwise we lose by default,” Rodriguez told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

“We’re appealing to our colleagues, especially the leadership, that this is a case where another branch is intruding by filing,” he added.

Fortun, for his part, advised members of the lower chamber not to succumb to fear— especially when basic human rights such as freedom of expression and of the press are concerned.

“My appeal to my colleagues in the House is to think, consider that as members of the legislature of a supposedly democratic republic, we cannot wallow in a climate of fear— especially when basic fundamental freedoms and rights are threatened,” the lawmaker said.

Eleven bills seeking to renew ABS-CBN’s legal mandate remain pending before the House committee on legislative franchises. A counterpart bill in the Senate has also not moved at the committee level.

RELATED: Lawmakers confident of votes to renew ABS-CBN franchise

Rodriguez earlier said the lower chamber won’t be able to set hearings on the issue pending a green light from its leaders, including Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano. Cayetano in December said the franchise renewal bills may be tackled early this year, but no specific timeline was set.

In the upper chamber, lawmakers are also confident that a measure renewing ABS-CBN's franchise will be taken up soon.

Senate Majority Leader Migz Zubiri said majority of the Senators back the proposed franchise extension.

"You can say majority. I can't give you the exact number, but on my head count, majority support it. I don't think it will have a difficult time here in the Senate," Zubiri told reporters.

ABS-CBN franchise ‘valid’; petition has no basis

Both Fortun and Rodriguez also labeled the Solicitor General’s petition as a move “without basis.”

Rodriguez cited Rule 66 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that a quo warranto petition can be filed against a person who “intrudes, usurps, or unlawfully holds or exercises public office, position or franchise.” He said the parameters do not apply to ABS-CBN’s case, as the broadcasting giant holds a “valid franchise.”

“The problem also here is the Supreme Court is not a trier of facts, the Supreme Court is a trier of questions of law," Rodriguez said. "The Supreme Court should just really dismiss this outright— that's the best thing for them to do."

Fortun also said he foresees the high court’s dismissal of the plea, as the power to repeal franchises resides with Congress.

Calida on Monday ran to the court with a ““very urgent” motion seeking to cancel ABS-CBN’s legislative franchise. The government’s top lawyer cited "highly abusive practices”— including alleged foreign ownership issues and lack of operation permits.

The high court has given the network ten days to submit its comments on Calida’s petition. ABS-CBN earlier denied committing any violations, saying the petition is part of an effort to shut the network down.

CNN Philippines' Alyssa Rola and Melissa Lopez contributed to this report.