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MANILA – As Senate hearing on several bills granting ABS-CBN Corporation a franchise began, several senators on Tuesday expressed their reservations over the constitutionality of the proceedings since the House of Representatives has yet to transmit its version to the upper chamber.

The Senate committee on public services tackled Senate Bill 1521, which seeks to grant ABS-CBN a provisional franchise until the end of June 2022, and Senate Bill 981 seeking to renew the broadcast giant’s franchise which expired on May 4.

Senator Francis Tolentino said the hearing “might be premature,” pointing out that franchise bill must emanate from the House as provided under the Constitution.

“We might be violating the constitution if we hear a bill on anticipation of a bill which has not be yet been passed. When the reason to commence a hearing does not exist, we cannot commence the hearing,” Tolentino said.

“With this reservation, I would continuously invoke on Constitutional grounds that the franchise bills should be heard at the proper time,” he added.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said the situation in relation to the ABS-CBN franchise bills now pending in both houses of Congress “has become confusing, to say the least.”

With 12 pending bills granting ABS-CBN another 25-year legislative franchise that have yet to come out of the House committee level, House Bill No. 6732 seeking to grant ABS-CBN a provisional franchise until Oct. 31, 2020 is being deliberated on the floor.

“Assuming for the sake of discussion that they transmit HB 6732 to the Senate after approval on third and final reading probably next week, and while the 12 pending bills have yet to be reported out by their committee on legislative franchises on the House floor, how will the Senate treat those measures?” Lacson said.

Tolentino and Lacson said they have no disagreement with the hearing and would not move to defer the same.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, opted to withhold his questions and opinions since “we don’t really know what shape, color or size the bill that would emanate from the House would look like.”

On the other hand, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said that “as a matter of procedure,” bills that are supposed to emanate from the House could be taken up simultaneously by the Senate as long as there is no committee report coming out.

He cited as example hearings by the Senate on the national budget and other measures while the House version is still being deliberated at the committee level.

“And we do not report out until the House Bill is before us,” Drilon said.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said he totally agrees with Drilon.

“By tradition and practice, we tackled bills on budget as well as taxation measures, we can hear these simultaneously with the House although we will hold the committee report. I see no violation of the origination clause. So, we don’t waste today’s hearing,” he said.

Senator Sonny Angara also shared Drilon and Zubiri’s view.

However, Tolentino pointed out that the tradition and practice invoked by his colleagues is just an acknowledgement of the “legislative limitations” of the Senate.

Lacson also said they cannot compare the budget measure with a legislative franchise measure because what they are tackling is the National Expenditure Program (NEP), and not the House version of the budget measure.

“But of course, we all know that the House version or the General Appropriations Bill 1 (GAB-1) we refer to is a replica of the NEP. But what we are hearing in the committee on finance is not the House bill but the NEP that was submitted by Malacañang to the House, of which a copy is also furnished to the Senate,” Lacson said.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who presided over the hearing as vice chair of the Committee on Public Services, said the hearing was only “anticipatory, exploratory and clarificatory” to resolve whatever issues that may arise once the House version reaches the Senate. (PNA)