One of the major issues this year is the denial of the franchise bid of ABS-CBN. Based on news reports, the congressional committee overwhelmingly voted in favor of rejection of the application, with 70 voting to deny renewal and only 11 to renew, with two to inhibit due to “conflict of interest”, and one to abstain .
This, again, caused division among Filipinos.
Some “anti-ABS-CBN” contended that franchise is a mere privilege and not a right. Further, we have to accept and respect the determination of the Lower House through its appropriate committee. However, there were some “anti-ABS-CBN” who had a different contention: they preferred the approval of legislative franchise, so that it can be challenged (e.g. through a Quo Warranto petition ), just like other laws or Acts, before the Supreme Court. We heard a lot of comments and opinions from concerned government agencies like the DOJ and the BIR, but these “executive constructions” are not always concluding. They are entitled to great weight and respect by the courts in the interpretation of ambiguous provisions of law UNLESS they are clearly erroneous. The Highest Court shall have the final interpretation or construction whether or not there were violations committed by ABS-CBN as to its broadcasting franchise.
The other side, the “pro-ABS-CBN”, argued that the company deserves the approval of its franchise, because, based on previous Senate hearings regarding the issue on ABS-CBN, it did not have violations. Additionally, they argued that many workers of the biggest network might lose their jobs in the middle of a pandemic, and also, many Filipinos especially from the rural areas will lose their main source of news and updates upon closure of its regional networks.
Re-filing of franchise application may be an option, but it is unlikely to succeed for obvious reasons. The 2022 elections may also be a determining factor, but the network has to wait for two years and with no guarantee as well. Hence, the idea of a People’s Initiative.
According to a Rappler article, a group of citizen volunteers launched the People’s Initiative for Reforms and Movement for Action (PIRMA KAPAMILYA) on July 24 (two weeks after the House committee on legislative franchises denied the application), seeking to grant media network ABS-CBN a “people’s franchise” . An excerpt from a recent ABS-CBN news article says, “President Rodrigo Duterte and lawmakers have no power to block the grant of a broadcast franchise to ABS-CBN Corp through a people’s initiative if it succeeds in getting the required numbers, lawyers who volunteered for the move said Friday” .
My personal opinion on the matter
First off, there may be an uncertainty that the “people’s franchise” will prosper.
Article VI, Section 24 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution states that “ALL appropriation, revenue, or tariff bills, bills of local application, and PRIVATE BILLS, SHALL originate EXCLUSIVELY in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments”.
A proposed legislative franchise is classified as a private bill, because it applies only to a particular corporate entity. The preceding provision is also plain, clear, and unambiguous, and thus, should not be given a construction that changes its meaning.
Furthermore, Republic Act No. 6735, also known as “The Initiative and Referendum Act”, defines “Initiative” as the power of the people to propose amendments to the Constitution or to propose and enact legislations through an election called for the purpose. It also enumerates the three systems of initiative, namely: (1) Initiative on the Constitution, which refers to a petition proposing amendments to the Constitution; (2) Initiative on statutes, which refers to a petition proposing to enact a NATIONAL legislation; and (3) Initiative on local legislation, which refers to a petition proposing to enact a regional, provincial, city, municipal, or barangay law, resolution, or ordinance.
Private bill does not belong to any of the systems mentioned above. There is also a rule in statutory construction which states that the express mention of a person, thing or consequence implies the exclusion of all others (expressio unius est exclusion alterius). Its variation, expressum facit cessare tacitum, is the principle that what is expressed puts an end to that which is implied. These principles are generally used in the construction of statutes granting powers, creating rights and remedies, among others.
Delegation of legislative powers to the people at large is permitted. However, “according to Cooley, “the prevailing doctrine in the court appears to be, that, except in those cases where, by the Constitution, the people has expressly reserved to themselves a power of decision, the function of legislation cannot be exercised by them, even to the extent of accepting or rejecting a law which has been framed for their consideration. The people have voluntarily surrendered that power when they adopted the Constitution. The government of the state is democratic, but it is a representative democracy, and in passing general laws the people act only through their representatives in the legislature. Such reference of the law to the people at large for acceptance or rejection is in plain surrender of the law-making power”” .
But in People v. Vera, our Supreme Court observed that “courts have also sustained the delegation of legislative power to the people at large”, although it was quick to add that “some authorities maintain that this may not be done” .
Nevertheless, if and when the “people’s franchise” succeeds, and if its legality and constitutionality will be assailed, the Court will have the final determination on the fate of the franchise of ABS-CBN.
Secondly, I am not in favor of the fact that taxpayer’s money will be used to enact, through People’s Initiative, a PRIVATE BILL that will directly benefit a single company. It should be known to us that the amount (millions, if not billions of pesos) necessary to cover the cost of this measure will be charged against public funds.
There are a lot of proposals and pending bills which would benefit the public in general, need more attention and urgency, and may be successfully enacted through People’s Initiative. The late senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has had many proposals like the bill for the inclusion of voters’ education in junior and senior high school curricula, anti-dynasty bill, “anti-epal” bill, “anti-balimbing” bill, anti-premature campaigning bill, anti-political recommendations bill, among others. Other proposals like more stringent anti-corruption legislations and Constitutional amendments for the people and the economy are also worthy of time and taxpayer’s money.
We also have to know that it is one of the duties of lawyers to the society to “participate in the development of the legal system by initiating or supporting efforts in law reform and in the improvement of the administration of justice” (Canon 4, Code of Professional Responsibility). The lawyers have the best legal literacy to present resolutions for the introduction of pertinent bills in Congress (“indirect initiative”).
I must stress, as a final statement, that I am not totally against the ABS-CBN franchise approval. What I am more concerned about is the apparently misplaced passion of Filipinos to utilize People’s Initiative.
 Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Website: https://cpj.org/2020/07/Philippine-congress-denies-abs-cbn-news-broadcasters-franchise-renewal/
 The Manila Standard: https://manilastandard.net/mobile/article/317831
 Philippine Political Law by Isagani A. Cruz, 2014 Edition, p. 171
Additional reference: Statutory Construction by Ruben E. Agpalo, 2009 Edition.