By Macon Araneta

Senate President Vicente Sotto III on May 18 rejected a private lawyer’s request for nine senators to inhibit from the hearings on the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN, citing their connections to the network.

Sotto was among the nine senators asked to inhibit as Lawyer Lorenzo Gadon alleged that the Senate President receives “fees and royalties” from ABS-CBN where his noontime show Eat Bulaga aired in the late 80’s.

Eat Bulaga now airs on rival network GMA 7.

“I am not financially interested in the business of ABS CBN. I am not a stockholder. I am part of Congress that is mandated by the Constitution to grant franchises. I cannot shirk from my sworn duty,” Sotto told reporters in a text message.

“I suggest you listen to my interpellations before judging me,” Sotto also said.

Other senators who were asked to inhibit include:

  • Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto whose wife, Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos, was a talent for ABS-CBN
  • Sonny Angara whose wife, Tootsy Angara, works in ABS-CBN
  • Pia Cayetano whose late father, former Sen. Rene Cayetano, hosted a TV and radio show on ABS-CBN
  • Lito Lapid who used to act on ABS-CBN’s primetime show Ang Probinsyano
  • Manny Pacquiao whose boxing bouts were aired on ABS-CBN
  • Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan whose wife, Sharon Cuneta, is a talent for ABS-CBN
  • Grace Poe whose mother, Susan Roces, is part of the cast of ABS-CBN’s primetime show Ang Probinsyano
  • Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr. for allegedly receiving royalties for his movies aired on ABS-CBN.

Poe, who chairs the Senate Committee on Public Services including franchises, has inhibited from proceedings since March.

Other senators who were asked to skip ABS-CBN-related hearings have yet to comment on the issue.

In March, Gadon filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to stop the House of Representatives from issuing a provisional authority for ABS-CBN.

The high court has yet to rule on his petition.

Last year, ABS-CBN broke news about the Supreme Court’s decision to suspend Gadon as a lawyer for three months over his use of “abusive and intemperate language” which “lessen the confidence of the public in the Philippine judicial system.”

ABS-CBN also reported on the once-suspended lawyer’s failure to attend mandatory seminars for lawyers for 10 years.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Gadon’s request had “absolutely no (legal) basis.”

“Inhibition is a personal decision of each senator. No one can impose it, not even the Supreme Court,” Drilon said in a text message to reporters.

“We can only be disciplined if there are ethical issues involved in our participation in the ABS-CBN franchise by the Senate and no one else. We are answerable only to the Senate and the people,” he also said.

ABS-CBN stopped its broadcast operations earlier in May after the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued a cease and desist order against network.

This is despite a “legislative tradition” that allows networks to operate beyond the expiration of their franchises while Congress has yet to finalize their renewal documents.

Earlier, Sotto said the Senate will grant ABS-CBN a fresh 25-year mandate after a February 2020 Senate hearing found that contrary to allegations, the company neither violated a Constitutional ban on foreign ownership nor did it skirt tax and broadcasting laws.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to pass on third reading a bill that would give ABS-CBN provisional authority to operate until October 2020 to give Congress more time to deliberate on its franchise renewal bid.

The franchise renewal has been pending in the House Committee on Legislative Franchises for several years.