PH House rejects ABS-CBN’s bid for a new franchise

Employees and supporters light candles at the gate of the ABS-CBN compound in Quezon City last May 5. | Philstar.com photo by Miguel de Guzman

ABS-CBN will remain off-air as a Philippine House of Representatives panel on Friday, July 10, rejected the bills seeking to grant the broadcasting giant a new 25-year franchise.

Voting 70 to 11, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises adopted the recommendation of its technical working group to deny the network a new franchise. Two congressmen inhibited while one abstained.

“The (group) determined that the likely consensus among members of this committee is to disapprove the application of ABS-CBN for another franchise,” Deputy Speaker Pablo John Garcia said in his reading of the report.

The 11 lawmakers who voted “No” to the resolution denying ABS-CBN a new franchise include Bienvenido Abante Jr, Manila 6th District; Carlos Isagani Zarate, Bayan Muna party-list; Christopher De Venecia, Pangasinan 4th District; Edward Vera Perez Maceda, Manila 4th District; Gabriel Bordado Jr, Camarines Sur 3rd District; Jose “Ping-Ping” Tejada, North Cotabato 3rd District; Lianda Bolilia, Batangas 4th District; Mujiv Hataman, Basilan; Sol Aragones, Laguna 3rd District; Stella Luz Quimbo, Marikina 2nd District; and Vilma Santos-Recto, Batangas 6th District.

According to House legislative franchises panel chair and Palawan 1st District Representative Franz Alvarez, ABS-CBN can file a motion for reconsideration within the next 24 hours.

The network stopped its operations on May 5 in compliance with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC’s) cease and desist order due to the expiration of its congressional franchise.

The order directed ABS-CBN to shut down its various TV and radio broadcasting stations nationwide “sent a valid Congressional Franchise as required by law.”

Republic Act No. 7966, which granted the network a 25-year franchise to operate TV and radio broadcasting stations expired on May 4, 2020.

On June 30, NTC issued two separate orders shutting down ABS-CBN’s digital broadcast on TVPlus in Metro Manila and SKY’s satellite broadcast nationwide.

Nothing to do with ‘press freedom’
In its technical working group (TWG) report, the Legislative Franchises Committee maintained that its decision to deny ABS-CBN a fresh franchise is not related to press freedom.

“By no means can this franchise application be related to press freedom,” it said in its resolution.

“It is what it is, a denial of a privilege granted by the State because the applicant was seen as undeserving of the grant of a legislative franchise,” it added.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, for his part, urged the public to understand “why the decision had to be so.”

“This has by no means been an easy process for anyone involved in these proceedings, and I can assure our kababayans (countrymen) that the final resolution was not arrived at by the committee without serious consideration as to the overall impact it will have on the nation,” Cayetano said.

In late May, the House committees on Legislative Franchises and Good Government and Public Accountability started conducting hearings on tackled ABS-CBN’s franchise application bid.

In these hearings, several issues were brought to light such as the network’s alleged foreign ownership by way of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs), the use of subsidiaries as tax shields, and the dual citizenship of ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III.

ABS-CBN, through its representatives, refuted all allegations against the network.

In a statement on Friday following the decision, Carlo Katigbak, ABS-CBN’s president and chief executive, said the network is “deeply hurt” about the franchise denial.

“We remain committed to public service, and we hope to find other ways to achieve our mission. Together with our employees and our audiences all over the world, we share in your sadness over this setback. We look forward to the day when we can again reunite under our broadcast,” Katigbak said.

‘Chilling effect’
Vice President Leni Robredo criticized the House panel’s rejection, claiming that this move might set a “chilling effect” on press freedom.

“Malawak ang implikasyon ng desisyong ito. Mayroon itong chilling effect: Hindi kalabisang isipin na maaaring magbabago ang editorial choices ng ibang pahayagan gawa ng panggigipit na ginawa sa ABS-CBN (This decision has wide implications. This has a chilling effect: it’s not excessive to think that editorial choices of other news organizations might change because of the repression of ABS-CBN),” she said in a statement.

Robredo also pointed out possible repercussions of the decision on ABS-CBN’s thousands of workers.

“Inaalisan nito ng kabuhayan ang libu-libong nasa empleyo ng network, bukod pa ang mga contractual, at ang iba pang mga industriyang nakasalalay sa mga proyekto ng network. Inaampat nito ang daloy ng wasto at napapanahong impormasyon (This decision leaves thousands of network employees jobless, aside from contractual workers, and affects other industries dependent on the network’s projects. It blocks the flow of accurate and timely information),” the vice president said.

“Ang hirap tanggapin na lahat ng ito ay nangyayari habang lahat tayo’y nakikipagbuno pa rin sa hirap at pangambang dulot ng COVID-19. Solusyon sa pandemya, sa pagkawala ng trabaho, at sa gutom ang hinihiling ng Pilipino. Pero pananakot, pagbawi ng kalayaan, at dagdag na panggigipit ang pilit sa ating ihinahain (It’s hard to accept that this is happening while we’re fighting hardships and fears brought by COVID-19. Filipinos are asking for a solution to the pandemic, loss of livelihood and hunger. But they are giving us terror, seizing our freedoms and repressing us even more),” she added.

Robredo stressed that the public’s choice in leaders matters.

“Our choice of leaders matters. Mahalagang pumili ng mga pinunong tunay sa sumasalamin sa ating mga adhikain at prinsipyo. Kaya’t tandaan natin ang mga pangalan ng kongresista at opisyal na tumaliwas sa ating mga paniniwala upang mapanagot sila gamit ang mga prosesong pangdemokrasya (It’s important to choose leaders who truly reflect our goals and principles. So let’s remember the names of the congressmen and officials who voted against our beliefs so we can hold them accountable through democratic processes),” she said.

Senator Risa Hontiveros also decried the House panel’s decision, saying that it was an “outrageous act of political persecution.”

“Because officials committed to settle personal scores with ABS-CBN, 11,000 workers are now in danger of losing their jobs and may fail to provide for their families in the near future,” she said in a statement.

“The political persecution of ABS-CBN sends a chilling message to Filipino media practitioners and journalists: toe the line or get shut down,” Hontiveros added.

She also urged the public to “protect the cause of a free press” and hold people in power accountable.

“We must protect the cause of a free press in this country. We must not be afraid to hold those in power into account,” the opposition senator said.

“History will be harsh to those who ignored the most basic needs of Filipinos during this pandemic and instead used it to consolidate power for selfish reasons,” she added. “Maniningil ang kasaysayan (History will come to collect debts).”

Meanwhile, Malacañang said it respects the House panel’s decision to deny ABS-CBN a new franchise.

“The Palace has maintained a neutral stance on the issue as it respects the separation of powers between the two co-equal branches of government,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said.

Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, in a separate statement, also stressed that the executive department does not meddle in the affairs of Congress.

“Both sides of the issues have been heard. We leave it to the collective wisdom of the committee apropos its denial of the renewal of [the] franchise,” he said.

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