Senators insist exemption from gag order plea on ABS-CBN franchise issue

Marje Pelayo   •   February 18, 2020   •   1112

MANILA, Philippines – Several senators believe that they should not be covered by the gag order that Solicitor General Jose Calida is requesting in relation to the franchise application of ABS-CBN Corporation.

 According to Senator Grace Poe, the Upper Chamber is expressing its respect and support to the Supreme Court (SC) but based on the court’s previous ruling, the Senate should not be affected by the gag order.

Poe is planning to start the Senate hearing on the ABS-CBN franchise on February 27.

Several senators also agreed that discussions on the Kapamilya network’s franchise renewal should be given a chance.

 “I think it has to be established first, (before you curtail my freedom of expression), for me to speak freely,” expressed Senator Joel Villanueve.

“I think there is no compelling reason right now to do that,” he added.

“The Senate can pursue the oversight hearing in light of its oversight function,” believed Senator Sherwin Gatchalian.

Senator Ronald dela Rosa who is a known ally to President Rodrigo Duterte also supports the Senate’s discussion on the allegations against ABS-CBN.

“It concerns everyone, the public. So, hindi mo maiwawasan na pag-usapan iyan sa publiko, (You cannot stop the issue from being discussed in public,)” dela Rosa said.

“We have to give fair chance to everyone. Dapat malaman natin kung anong katotohanan. Pero pag sinabi mo na impluwensya ako sa desisyon ni Presidente, kayo may sarili kayong bias, ako naman (We should know the truth. But if you accuse me of being influenced by the President’s decision, like you having your own bias, I also am biased to my President,” he added.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, hopes that the Supreme Court will not include the Senate or any of its committees in the gag order.

“What may be covered, though, are the resource persons who will be invited to shed light on this instant case involving the franchise of ABS-CBN as they are not exempt from the sub judice rule, which covers litigants and witnesses, members of the bar and the public in general,” Lacson explained in a statement.

But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who previously filed a joint resolution to extend the franchise of ABS-CBN to 2022, argued that the SC cannot bar a resource person from responding to a Senate invitation.

The Supreme Court cannot prohibit persons to appear and testify before congressional inquiries in aid of legislation. The petition cannot prevent the Senate from hearing the issues on ABS-CBN. The petition has no effect on the Senate,” Drilon said.

SC spokesperson Atty. Brian Hosaka, meanwhile, clarified that the Senate may still push through with their inquiry, even the House of Representative as they are not among the parties involved in the case.

The SC has given the Kapamilya Network five days to answer to the SolGen’s petition.

Meanwhile, Malacañang expressed support for the gag order.

“Tama naman siya doon kasi parang nagiging emotional ang issue on this particular topic,” Palace Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

“If ABS-CBN has committed a criminal act then the President will exercise his right and pursue a case against it before the court. But he will not use his office to stop ABS-CBN from continuing with its service. That’s for congress to decide, not for him,” he concluded. MNP (with details from Harlene Delgado / Rosalie Coz)

Senate OKs bill seeking stiffer penalties for perjury

Robie de Guzman   •   May 18, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Monday, May 18 approved on third and final reading a bill that seeks to impose longer prison sentences and larger fines for individuals, especially public officials, who will commit perjury.

Voting 20-0, senators passed the Senate Bill No. 1354, which proposes to amend Article 183 of the Revised Penal Code and increase the current penalty on perjury from a range of the minimum period to medium period, or from six years and one day to 10 years of imprisonment.

Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights and sponsor of the bill, said the proposed higher penalties were meant to deter people from committing perjury as they testify under oath in proceedings, such as legislative hearings, and to create a culture of truth-telling in government.

“In other words, you lie, you pay… Do not trifle with the truth,” he said in a statement.

Perjury, he explained, is committed by a person when he “knowingly makes untruthful statements and not being included in the provisions of the crimes of false testimony under judicial proceedings, shall testify under oath, or make an affidavit, upon any material matter before a competent person authorized to administer an oath in cases in which the law so requires.”

Under the existing law, persons guilty of perjury are only sentenced from four months and one day to two years and four months of imprisonment.

For public offcials or employees who would commit perjury, the penalty of imprisonment will be imposed in its maximum period, along with a fine of P1 million, as well as perpetual disqualification from holding any appointive or elective position in government, Gordon said.

Gordon believes that the bill would help address the issue of low conviction rates for people charged with perjury.

“As we uncovered during our committee hearing, a factor for the low cases is the low penalty imposed on the crime of perjury. The current penalty for perjury is subject to probation and the bail imposed is also low, roughly Php6,000 only. Given the high costs involved in prosecuting a crime, there is no motivation to prosecute the crime of perjury,” he said.

The bill was co-authored by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Senators Panfilo Lacson and Leila de Lima.

Its counterpart bill at the House of Representatives remains pending at the committee level.

Senate to honor ex-Senator Tessie Aquino Oreta

Robie de Guzman   •   May 15, 2020

The Philippine flag flies at half-mast in front of the Philippine Senate building Friday to mourn the passing of former Senator Tessie Aquino-Oreta. (Philippine Senate)

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Friday said it will give honors to the late Senator Tessie Aquino-Oreta, who passed away on May 14.

Aquino-Oreta was a member of the Senate during the 11th and 12th Congress.

Senate Majority Juan Miguel Zubiri said a resolution will be passed on Monday, May 18 paying tribute to the former senator.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier expressed his sadness over the passing of Aquino-Oreta, whom he worked with at the Senate and considers as his friend.

“My family and I are so saddened by her demise.  She was very close to me and Sec Greg,” Sotto said, referring to former senator and now Information and Communications Technology Secretary Gregorio Honasan.

Sotto also said that his wife, Helen, was also “devastated” by Aquino-Oreta’s demise.

“Helen, being a relative of theirs is devastated by her passing away. She has not stopped crying since we were told the news last night,” he said.

Other senators have also expressed condolences to the family of the former lawmaker.

Malacañang also expressed sympathy over the demise of Aquino-Oreta.

“Our sincerest condolences to the family, relatives, friends and colleagues of former Senator Maria Teresa “Tessie” Aquino-Oreta who passed away yesterday, May 14 at the age of 75,” Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.

“Senator Oreta had a distinguished career in public service. She served the country as a senator during the 11th and 12th Congress and as Representative of 8th, 9th, and 10th Congress,” he added.

Aquino-Oreta was the youngest sister of slain Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and the aunt of former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

Her son, Malabon City Mayor Antolin “Lenlen” Oreta, announced her passing on Friday but did not disclose the cause. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

Senate adopts resolution urging NTC to reconsider shutdown order vs ABS-CBN

Robie de Guzman   •   May 11, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Monday adopted a resolution urging the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to reconsider the cease and desist order it issued against the ABS-CBN Corporation.

The upper chamber approved Senate Resolution No. 395 after 12 senators voted in favor of it, while nine abstained.

Among those who abstained from voting on the resolution are Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senators Pia Cayetano, Panfilo Lacson, Francis Tolentino, Cynthia Villar, Imee Marcos, Ronald Dela Rosa, Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, and Bong Revilla.

The senators who abstained from voting argued that the issue has already been filed before the Supreme Court and that the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN should emanate from the House of Representatives.

Cayetano, who initially signed the resolution, said she withdrew her signature as she would like to refrain from expressing her views while the issue remains pending at the High Court.

The resolution reiterated the Senate’s stand that the ABS-CBN, its subsidiaries and affiliates, should be allowed to continue operations pending the disposition of its franchise renewal.

The NTC issued a shutdown order against ABS-CBN after its franchise expired on May 4.

The media network went off air in compliance with the order but it filed a petition before the Supreme Court, claiming that the NTC gravely abused its discretion when it issued the order instead of deferring to Congress, which has the plenary power to grant and renew legislative franchises.

On Monday, the Supreme Court said the petition has been raffled to a magistrate while the House committee on legislative franchises issued a show cause order, asking the NTC to explains its action.

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