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CA panel resets COA chair Cordoba's appointment hearing due to time constraints

A Commission on Appointments committee has rescheduled the continuation of the hearing on Gamaliel Cordoba's appointment as Commission on Audit (COA) chairman due to time constraints.

"We suspended the session because we have to go to the plenary because kailangan i-second and third reading 'yung budget today. So imbes na maantala ang budget, we decided suspend muna. So hindi siya deferred, we will schedule him next week," CA Majority Leader Luis Raymund Villafuerte said in a chance interview.

(The national budget still has to go through the second and third reading today. So instead of delaying the budget, we have decided to suspend this hearing. So his appointment has not been deferred; we will schedule him next week.)

According to Villafuerte, Senator Risa Hontiveros still wants to ask Cordoba questions and the panel has to respect the minority senator's request.

Before the CA committee on constitutional commissions went on a lunch break, Hontiveros was grilling Cordoba over his decision—as former National Telecommunications commissioner—to issue a cease and desist order against the operations of ABS-CBN.

She recalled Cordoba's statement before a hearing at the House of Representatives on March 10, 2020, saying the NTC would issue ABS-CBN a provisional authority to operate pending the approval of its legislative franchise.

"Despite your commitment under oath, instead of issuing a provisional authority you issued on 5th May 2020 a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN to stop operating its various TV and radio broadcasting stations nationwide after pressure from then-Solicitor General [Jose] Calida and the chair's predecessor as COA chair, who threatened on 3rd May, ironically, the World Press Freedom Day, that he would prosecute NTC commissioners if they approve the provisional authority, stating that only Congress could grant a franchise to ABS CBN," Hontiveros said.

"As stated in our Constitution, public office is a public trust. Public officers must, at all times, be accountable  to the people. Serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency. Paano po kayo pagkakatiwalaan ng publiko at paano po pagkakatiwalaan ang integridad ninyo bilang chair ng COA kung nilabag ninyo ang isang pagtataya, ang isang commitment na binigay ninyo under oath?" she asked.

(How can the public trust you, and how can your integrity be trusted as COA chair, if you violated a commitment you gave under oath?)

Cordoba, in response, said that his commitment was based on a legal opinion from the Department of Justice but the Office of the Solicitor General filed a quo warranto proceeding against the ABS-CBN.

After this, Cordoba said, they studied their supposed action and evaluated its legalities but they found out that a Supreme Court decision on the case of ACWS vs. NTC ruled that "no franchise, no operation."

"Sa totoo po, napakabigat po ng desisyon na ginawa namin at masakit din po sa aming puso [In truth, it was a very difficult decision and it also hurt our hearts]. We have no choice but to follow the jurisprudence as decided by the Supreme Court sa ACWS case as jurisprudence forms part of the law of the land," he said.

"Of course, kahit po sa legal medyo mabigat sa aming pakiramadam kaya po nga during the House hearings ako po ay humingi ng paumanhin sa mga taong naapektuhan, dahil po ginawa ko lang naman ang aking trabaho at sinunod ko lang naman po ang gusto ko pong ulitin ngayon na pasensya na po kayo, I just had to follow the rule of law," he added.

(This is why during the House hearings I apologized to the affected people, because I only did my job and followed the law...and I want to repeat today that I hope you understand, I just had to follow the rule of law.)

Hontiveros pursued her interpellation and asked why ABS-CBN was apparently singled out, saying that the NTC has allowed several entities to continue their operations even if their franchises have already lapsed.

"Bakit siya binukod? Bakit siya itinangi? Bakit siya binigyan ng hindi special treatment, the worst treatment?" Hontiveros asked.

(Why was it singled out? Why was it given not special treatment, but the worst treatment?)

'A continuing injustice'

At this point, SAGIP Representative Rodante Marcoleta, one of the lawmakers who led the congressional inquiry on ABS-CBN's alleged violations of its franchise, asked why they were "belaboring" the issue.

Hontiveros denied that she was belaboring the issue and explained that the matter is related to Cordoba's track record as commissioner in other government agencies.

"This is hardly belaboring dahil yung sa tingin ko lamang po, yung injustice na nangyari dito ay hindi pa po nga sapat na napag-usapan, ni nabigyan ng hustisya," she told Marcoleta.

(This is hardly belaboring because in my view the injustice that happened has not been sufficiently discussed, not has justice been brought.)

But Marcoleta insisted that the matter has already become moot and academic.

He said that the DOJ opinion, which was the basis of Cordoba's commitment to issue a provisional authority, "however good it may seem to be, is not a law."

"The Chairman cannot do anything otherwise he will be remiss in his duties and he will be violating the law. As I said, this is moot and academic," Marcoleta said.

"Siguro kaya ka lang humihingi ng tawad kasi naawa ka sa mga nawalan ng trabaho [You were probably asking for forgiveness because you felt sorry for the people who lost their jobs], but that is not your fault. You have to protect the government, the interest of the government. Bakit ka hihingi ng tawad kung tama ang ginawa mo? [Why would you ask for forgiveness if you did the right thing?] It was based on the law, it was based on jurisprudence, that is something you need not ask forgiveness for, Mr. Chairman," he went on.

Further, Marcoleta maintained that the ABS-CBN franchise issue is "not about press freedom."

"This is about a franchise. Iba po iyon eh [That is different.]. A franchise to be granted by the House of Representatives is the only permit for a network to operate. It doesn’t matter, wala tayong pinaguusapan na [we are not talking about] freedom of speech there...we shouldn’t belabor this case," he said.

A visibly agitated Hontiveros responded to Marcoleta, saying that she was raising questions and soliciting answers from Cordoba on the issues that are "unresolved."

"It is not moot and academic, kasi ito po, sa aking hamak na opinyon lamang, ay isang continuing injustice—hindi siya naging win-win situation. Kung win-win situation ito, hindi na ito kailangan itanong pa," she told Marcoleta.

(It is not moot and academic, because in my humble opinion, a continuing injustice is not a win-win situation. If this is a win-win situation, it no longer needs to be discussed.)

She also slammed Marcoleta's claim that only 2,800 employees were affected by the ABS-CBN shutdown and that the issue is not about press freedom.

"Itong kaganapan laban sa franchise nila ay precisely naganap sa konteksto na ang press freedom ay under pressure, at sasabihin pa nga ng iba ay under attack. Yun na nga po sana yung mas maayos na resolusyon ng issue na provisional franchise o provisional authority para idugtong sa prangkisa na ibibigay ng Kongreso. Yun sana ay maka-reinforce doon sa pundasyon at mga depensa sa press freedom," she pointed out.

(This act against the franchise precisely occurred in the context of press freedom coming under pressure—some might even say under attack. A provisional franchise or provisional authority would have been a better resolution to the issue to add to the franchise given by Congress.)

As her last question, Hontiveros asked Cordoba if he would let himself or his office be "pressured again by other government officials even if it will violate the duty of his office."

Cordoba, in response, said: "Hindi po tayo papayag na mangyari ang ganoon Madam Chair."

(I would not allow that to happen, Madam Chair.)

Senator Grace Poe shared Hontiveros' concern over the loss of jobs in the media network following its shutdown.

Poe likewise said that ABS-CBN is a source of information, especially during calamities.

Although she understands that Cordoba was asking for an apology for making a hard decision, Poe said she believes that "it's not just the decision of the Supreme Court" and there are "outside factors that have to be considered, unfortunately and strongly against the renewal of the franchise."

On the other hand, Villafuerte said that Cordoba's case is different from the situation of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Erwin Tulfo, whose ad interim appointment was indefinitely deferred.

"Today, we did not adjourn. We just suspended the hearing to have lunch and it's an ongoing suspension, technically," he said.

"[The hearing on Tulfo's appointment] deferred until submission of further documents that we are asking from him," he explained.—AOL/BM, GMA Integrated News