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

Marje Pelayo   •   February 18, 2020   •   934

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)

Bill seeking additional powers for Duterte vs COVID-19 filed at Senate

Robie de Guzman   •   March 23, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – A bill seeking to declare the existence of a national emergency and to authorize President Rodrigo Duterte to exercise powers necessary to address the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis has been filed at the Senate on Monday.

Senate Bill No. 1413 titled “We Heal as One Act,” seeks to authorize Duterte to realign funds, and investments including unused or unreleased subsidies and transfers, held by any government-owned and controlled corporation or any national government agency.

The bill also proposes to grant Duterte the authority – for a limited period and subject to restrictions – to issue rules, regulations, and directives to address the coronavirus situation in the country.

The measure likewise proposes to grant the president the power to adopt and implement measures to prevent or minimize the spread of COVID-19, expedite medical testing and observation of persons under monitoring, and the immediate treatment of confirmed virus-infected patients.

He may likewise direct the operations of privately-owned hospitals and other establishments to house health workers or serve as quarantine or distribution areas, as well as order public transportation to mobilize medical workers and other frontliners.

“The management and operation of the foregoing enterprises shall be retained by the owners of the enterprise, who shall render a full accounting to the President or his duly authorized representative,” the bill read.

The proposed measure also states that the president may also take over the operations of the said businesses – subject to limits and safeguards under the 1987 Constitution – if these enterprises “unjustifiably refused or signified that they are no longer capable of operating their enterprises for anti-COVID-19 efforts.

The president may likewise undertake fast procurement or supplies as the need arises including testing kits, personal protective equipment, and other medical devices.

The proposed measure also seeks to authorize Duterte to cancel projects and programs to utilize its funds, realign budget and allocate funds held by any government agency to fund measures against the COVID-19 crisis.

The measure also seeks to ensure that local governments are acting in line with the directives of the national government.

The president will also submit a weekly report to the Congress while a Joint Oversight Committee will be established to determine whether such acts and orders of the President are within the specified restrictions.

The bill, introduced by Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Pia Cayetano, has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance.

The Senate held a special session to tackle the bill on Monday.

Twelve senators, including Sotto, Cayetano, and Acting Senate Majority Leader Sherwin Gatchalian, Senators Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Panfilo Lacson, Lito Lapid, Manny Pacquiao, Ralph Recto, Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Grace Poe and Francis Tolentino were present during the session.

The session, however, was temporarily suspended as they await the attendance of two more senators to reach a quorum.

Cayetano, who will sponsor the bill on the floor, said she is in the process of consulting the Cabinet officials, and consolidating all the proposed amendments introduced by her fellow senators. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

Senate under restricted access, senators on self-quarantine after guest tests positive for COVID-19

Marje Pelayo   •   March 12, 2020

Senate President Vicente Sotto III

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate of the Philippines has been placed on restricted access to allow disinfection on Thursday (March 12) after one resource person in a recent Senate hearing tested positive for coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

On Wednesday evening (March 11), Senate President Vicente Sotto III set the restriction to begin Thursday until the weekend to allow disinfection of the Senate halls.

“We are playing it safe. Better to err on the side of caution. But let’s not be paranoid. Quarantine period is being observed already by those concerned,” Sotto said in a statement.

“I’m optimistic that there is no real danger in the Senate,” he added.

In a statement, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian who led the committee hearing on March 5, voluntarily went on self-quarantine after interacting with the resource person.

“Though I am asymptomatic and feel healthy, I will follow government set protocols on such cases and go into self-quarantine immediately given that I interacted with the said individual,” Gatchalian said.

“I instructed all my staff to do the same especially those who had direct contact with the said person too,” he added.

Also in a statement, Senator Nancy Binay said: “Following the decision of Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian to go into self-quarantine, I have likewise decided to take similar precautions and self-monitor for the next 14 days.”

“This is a serious public health matter and I enjoin everyone who came in contact with me in the past week to take the same precautions and observe all the basic hygienic processes,” Binay said.

Binay said she also asked her staff to do the same and take preventive measures.

“With close to 50 people already tested positive, it only shows that the exposure to the virus is real, and there’s a high chance that someone out there is a carrier,” she said.

Apart from Gatchalian and Binay, Finance Chief Carlos Dominguez III and Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade as well as Assistant Secretary Goddes Libiran all went into self-quarantine.

Dominguez and Tugade both submitted themselves to COVID-19 tests despite being asymptomatic as they also interacted with another COVID-19 carrier last week.

“I was told that a fellow I met with last Thursday and Friday last week has tested positive for COVID-19 today. I have no symptoms but I am self-isolating until I get tested. You may wish to follow suit,” Dominguez said.

Senator Sotto said they will also review the closed circuit televisions (CCTVs) in Senate to determine who were the other people the Covid-19 carrier interacted with. MNP (with details from Harlene Delgado)

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Sotto vows to uphold Senate independence after seeking SC ruling on treaty abrogation

Robie de Guzman   •   March 10, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday vowed to uphold the Senate’s independence above political alliances, a day after he and his fellow senators filed a petition urging the Supreme Court to rule on whether on not the upper chamber has a role in the abrogation of treaties previously concurred on.

Sotto and five other senators on Monday formally submitted a petition for declaratory relief and mandamus, asking the SC to define if a treaty previously concurred in by the Senate should require the concurrence of at least two thirds of its members upon its withdrawal.

The petition was filed after President Rodrigo Duterte in February ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs to notify the United States of the Philippines’ intention to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which was signed between Manila and Washington in 1999.

Sotto said the legal move was meant to “assert the sense of the power of the Senate that we know and we think that we have.”

He maintained that senators must be consulted on vital matters like the termination of international agreements and treaties just as its concurrence is required before the same are ratified.

“This role is particularly important to ensure that the power to forge partnerships with our neighbors and allies remains impartial. The Senate must do its part in protecting the checks and balances in our government,” Sotto said.

He also set aside concerns that he could lose his alliance with Malacañang because of the Senate’s action.

“Personal interests should never outweigh public welfare. I will always choose to fight for the independence of the Senate. That is the legacy that I would like to leave this institution when my term comes to an end,” he said.

Duterte, on the other hand, said he could not be compelled by the SC and will stand by his decision to terminate the military pact with the US.

“They cannot compel me. I refuse to be compelled. I have terminated it, tapos ang problema ko,” he said in a press briefing late Monday.

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