Modern problems require modern solutions

    ‘Repeal the Radio Control Law. Replace it with something better, something that will allow ABS-CBN to operate while also giving The People a modern framework for utilizing and managing our broadcast frequencies.’

    AMID rising COVID-19 infections (the UP vs. Roque series is now tied 1-1), a renewed sort of push for charter change, and President Duterte suggesting that people dip disposable masks in diesel to disinfect them – a suggestion the DDS faithful will surely take to heart – the top-of-mind topic remains the ABS-CBN closure. And why not? The authors of the franchise denial live-streamed their very animated discussion about how they were going to screw everyone over and push for administrative fines in the trillions of pesos, not to mention a government to take over ABS-CBN’s Mother Ignacia compound based on flimsy anecdotal evidence of problematic land titles.

    If anyone ever needed a lesson in why our justice system requires impartial judges, this is the perfect illustration of what happens when “judges” are very much partial.

    Now, I wanted to shift the focus a bit on the part where people are proposing a people’s initiative to grant ABS-CBN a franchise. It is certainly a novel idea, but I must sadly register my dissent from it.

    To be clear: I want ABS-CBN back up. But I don’t want people to expend time and effort and resources to push for something that may potentially be shot down via technicalities. I will suggest another way that a people’s initiative could work, but let’s deal with the franchise portion first.

    The Constitution provides that legislative power shall be vested in the Congress of the Philippines, except to the extent reserved to the people by the provision on initiative and referendum. Particularly, we The People reserved for Ourselves the ability to directly propose and enact laws or approve or reject any act or law or part thereof by the Congress or local legislative body. From this alone, it looks like a legislative franchise is fair game.

    Is it?

    A legislative franchise is a private law, and according to Section 24 Article VI of the Constitution, this is expressly vested in the House of Representatives – not even the entire Congress, which includes the Senate – along with appropriation, revenue or tariff bills, bills authorizing increase of the public debt, and bills of local application.

    So let’s go back. We The People vested legislative power in Congress, “except” for what we reserved for ourselves. Reading all of that together, this means that whatever we actually and specifically lodged in Congress, we did not reserve for ourselves.
    This includes private bills, such as congressional franchises.

    Now, admittedly there is no exact jurisprudence on this. I may yet be proven wrong. But is a legal challenge on that level really something we want to risk, after all of the effort required for a people’s initiative?

    To be clear: private bills must emanate from the House. But the Constitution itself does not mandate legislative franchises for broadcast companies. This requirement is mandated by Act No. 3864, also known as the Radio Control Law.

    Think about it. The only reason broadcast companies like ABS-CBN need a legislative franchise to utilize radio frequencies is because the 89-year old law mandates it. That’s right: a 1931 law, made back when we weren’t even a country yet and crafted so only “ahem” wealthy foreigners could put up radio broadcast stations, keep our broadcast media corporations beholden to the political dynasty club that is the House of Representatives.

    Now, I did say I was going to suggest something, so here’s the pitch: instead of a people’s initiative for a franchise grant, why not a people’s initiative to repeal the Radio Control Law, and replace it with a law better-suited to address our modern frequency spectrum management problems? After all, modern problems require modern solutions.

    In fact, we don’t even need to reinvent the wheel. House Bill 299 exists, a bill that aims precisely to repeal the Radio Control Law and create a more modern framework for frequency spectrum management. Look it up. It has everything we need, and then some.

    If we think we can get HB 299 passed into law faster than the House, if we are hell-bent on a people’s initiative, then I think we should go for it.

    Repeal the Radio Control Law. Replace it with something better, something that will allow ABS-CBN to operate while also giving The People a modern framework for utilizing and managing our broadcast frequencies.

    That is a people’s initiative I can get behind.