Cebu Archbishop Jose S. Palma

Will a People’s Initiative for a Broadcast Franchise Prosper?


[Requested by Charles Michael Tapuyao]

“LABAN KAPAMILYA!”

That is the battle cry of ABS-CBN supporters that continues to surge on the streets and online almost seven months after they were off the air, almost five months since Congress rejected the broadcast franchise renewal and almost two months under the new blocktime agreement with ZOE Broadcasting Network as A2Z.

But that is not enough. All they wanted is to restore to its pre-shutdown state — at least on TV (since radio could be easily taken away to new applicants).

Other than the two approaches that will end up being fruitless and dismissed as noise, another mode is made through a petition, dubbed as PIRMA Kapamilya.

The aim of PIRMA Kapamilya is to get enough signatures by the end of this year (27 days from now). Despite the negative limelight during his stint in public office, former Vice President Jejomar Binay took part.

While some are brave enough to go outside and wrestle their pen on paper, others are scared to do so because of the real concentration of political power that will lead to calculated, certain failure.

In this post, we might ask the following questions: How does the People’s Initiative work? How do some professionals see the situation? How will the remaining media outlets respond? Are there any other ways and when will they come back if ever?

 

What is the People’s Initiative?

The People’s Initiative is a broad term that is divided into classes: a mode of amending the Constitution or a mode of pushing an initiative (national or local) to become a statute of its own, aside from those passed in the traditional procedures in Congress.

To amend the Constitution, Article XVII, Section 2 provides:

Amendments to this Constitution may likewise be directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered votes therein. No amendment under this section shall be authorized within five years following the ratification of this Constitution nor oftener than once every five years thereafter.

The Congress shall provide for the implementation of the exercise of this right.

For the legislative initiative or referendum, Article VI, Section 32 states:

The Congress shall, as early as possible, provide for a system of initiative and referendum, and the exceptions therefrom, whereby the people can directly propose and enact laws or approve or reject any act or law or part thereof passed by the Congress or local legislative body after the registration of a petition therefor signed by at least ten per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered voters thereof.

The enabling law is cemented and reaffirmed in Republic Act No. 6735, passed on August 4, 1989.

The Characteristics and the Process of People’s Initiative

In the present case, this is considered a national initiative. The petition must include the following (Sec. 5, RA No. 6735):

  • contents or text of the proposed law sought to be enacted, approved or rejected, amended or repealed, as the case may be
  • the proposition
  • the reason or reasons therefor;
  • that it is not one of the exceptions provided herein;
  • signatures of the petitioners or registered voters; and
  • an abstract or summary proposition in not more than one hundred (100) words which shall be legibly written or printed at the top of every page of the petition.

To get it passed, it should get a signature of 10% of registered voters nationwide, of which a part (legislative districts) must be represented at least 3%.

Within 30 days from the receipt of the petition, the Commission of Elections (COMELEC) will determine the sufficiency of the petition. If it’s sufficient, it will publish the same in Filipino and English at least twice in newspapers of general and local circulation and set the date of the initiative or referendum not be earlier than forty-five (45) but not later than ninety (90) days.

If a majority passes, it becomes a law of its own with the usual effective date (15 days after publication in the Gazette or two newspapers in general circulation). If it fails, the prevailing law maintains.

The Recent Attempt for a P.I.

The recent attempt for a People’s Initiative arose from the Million People March in August 2013, arising from the Napoles pork barrel scam bombshell report a month ago. From June to August 2014, a multisectoral alliance-driven proposition wants to criminalize pork barrel fund creation and spending. However, the Supreme Court made the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional.

Despite the unconstitutionality of both mechanisms, Cebu Archbishop Jose S. Palma (who lead that particular people’s initiative) reiterated the importance as members of Congress continued to enjoy other forms of discretionary funds and often, under different names.

The initiative failed to turn out because other than the lack of knowledge of the situation, some families who had children enrolled in schools under politicians’ pork-funded scholarships refused to sign the proposition. In other words, they were threatened.

 

The Effectiveness of the PIRMA Kapamilya (present) situation

Media enthusiasts (who are not network fantards or serial haters) and related professionals (e.g. electronics engineering) are divided on this matter.

Political scientists but are non-lawyers have a split opinion on the matter, even if they have otherwise convictions, but they mostly agree that it couldn’t happen with the remaining 18 months of the presidential mandate.

Those who took up law and became attorneys have doubts about the legalistic perspective of this initiative. For one, two attorney-commentators of a radio show in DWIZ 882 kHz wouldn’t see this prosper. Their main argument is that granting a broadcast franchise of a private corporation will depend exclusively on the desire of Congress. Other lawyers have seen no explicit provisions prohibiting it — meaning a potential loophole exists that would allow PIRMA Kapamilya to proceed.

 

The (Impossible) Media Coverage

Should this particular movement happen, even though it would sound surreal and impractical, it would play a role in the media coverage. We can agree that no surviving media networks would hold ever hold a marathon for this prospective initiative as it is not like in Election Day. However, each network has a different response if the PIRMA Kapamilya gets in the way:

Surviving TV networks

  • GMA, their former competitor, would be hesitant to cover; not even on GMA News TV or their news website.
  • For TV5, where a chunk of the Kapamilya talents took refuge through blocktimers, it won’t happen on the main channel but One PH would tackle it on every radio program simulcast. Their news site, InterAksyon, could cover with updates.
  • CNN Philippines, where some of their personalities used to work on ABS, could cover in certain newscasts and some programs (e.g. The Source).
  • Government media networks like PTV and IBC wouldn’t cover the matter as their newscasts favor the incumbent President and defend with all their hearts and minds. The former may have enough time but the latter cannot as it is committed to the DepEd TV distance learning program.
  • SMNI, the “enabler” media outlet behind the fall of Mother Ignacia due to the opinions and news angles against the former media giant, would not deliver it; if it did, they would comment in a pessimistic angle. Other denomination-influenced UHF networks wouldn’t care.

Radio

As we said on DWIZ 882, this will be skeptical due to the personalities, even though one displaced Kapamilya talent (Vic de Leon Lima) was there. DZRH, where Dos Por Dos is on right now, will be a 50-50. For those who are asking about DZBB 594 or Radyo 5 92.3 News FM, look above for GMA’s and TV5’s insights, respectively. Philippine Broadcasting Service (PBS) AM stations will follow PTV’s path (ignore ’em).

Social media news sites

Rappler — the closest ally of Mother Ignacia as they are one of the common critical media outlets of this incumbent administration — would be interested.

 

Another Ways or Wait until 2022

Should this prosper, there would be taking objections from lawyers and they will file petitions to the Supreme Court. Let’s face it, in the end, judicial rulings are mostly decided on technicalities and often, the influence of the appointees rather than on the spirit and sentiment based on historical facts.

Jojo Ragragio’s column on Malaya Business Insight and few members of the legal academe on Twitter thought that this particular movement would not prosper but instead use that mode to review, repeal and replace the legislation behind the weaponization: Act No. 3864, a.k.a. Radio Control Law, which was enacted in 1931 – four years before our country became the transitionary Commonwealth – that was subsequently amended in 1950.

In Congress, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman immediately filed House Bill 299 after the committee’s rejection but they need a replacement to comply with the more modern framework for frequency spectrum management. At this juncture, it will be impossible to proceed as it is not considered a priority — even if there is a congressional leadership putsch after the change of speakership from Alan Cayetano to Lord Allan Velasco — and it may not be the attention as long as the power is virtually absolute at the helm of the strongman in the Palace.

For some netizens, it was their final straw and they decided to join the organizations that advocates for a total rewrite and rectification of the Constitution where its aim is to remove the protectionist provisions (ICYDK, under the present charter, media ownership must be fully-owned and maintained by Filipino citizens and corporations) and shifting to a new form of government before they proceed with this. While it has gained momentum lately, this push might not succeed due to the remaining time left until the next election and other measures to tackle within their club.

That being said, the safest (yet disappointing) way would be to put it into the wish list (open letter) for the next presidential administration — even if a candidate wouldn’t care about the heavily-defined incident during their future campaign. We hope that whoever we choose on May 9, 2022, can hear about this on his or her maiden State of the Nation Address on July 25, 2022.


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Photo courtesy of ABS-CBN