(UPDATED) The House of Representatives committee on legislative franchises, voting 70-11 on Friday, July 10, 2020, denied the application of ABS-CBN Corporation for a new 25-year franchise.

ABS-CBN may file a motion for reconsideration or re-file its application as long as bills seeking to renew its franchise are filed.

The committee voted on the recommendation of the technical working group (TWG) tasked to study the application following 12 marathon hearings.

The group, composed of Cebu 3rd District Representative Pablo John Garcia, Camiguin Rep. Xavier Jesus Romualdo and Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo, recommended that the application be rejected based on the following:
  • The American citizenship and doubtful Filipino citizenship and allegiance to the Philippines of ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III;
  • ABS-CBN’s possible violation of the constitutional prohibition against ownership and management of mass media by foreigners;
  • ABS-CBN’s numerous violations of the terms of its legislative franchise;
  • questionable and unjust, if not immoral, tax avoidance schemes;
  • apparent use of a dummy; and
  • less than exemplary labor practices.

“The TWG determined that the likely consensus among members of this committee was to disapprove the application of ABS-CBN for another franchise,” Garcia said. Quimbo dissented.

The TWG assured that ABS-CBN’s franchise application “is in no way related to the freedom of the press”. It stressed that the grant of a legislative franchise is “a mere privilege and never a matter of right”.

“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,” the group said.

“By no means can this franchise application be related to press freedom. If it were so, than all applicants for legislative franchise covering mass media could simply claim such freedom and force the hand of this committee each time,” it added.

Seventy lawmakers voted yes to the TWG recommendation while 11 voted no, two inhibited themselves and one abstained.

The 11 lawmakers who voted for ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal were Sol Aragones, Toff de Venecia, Carlos Zarate, Gab Bordado, Vilma Santos, Lianda Bolilia, Ping Tejada, Benny Abante, Stella Quimbo, Mujiv Hataman, and Edward Maceda.

The two legislators who inhibited from the vote were Alfred Vargas and Micaela Violago. Alfredo Garbin Jr. was the only lawmaker who abstained.

The TWG also recommended that the House “vigorously exercise its general congressional oversight functions” over legislative franchises and conduct an inquiry on the practice of issuing Philippine Depositary Receipts for industries that should be wholly owned and managed by Filipinos, among others.

ABS-CBN went off air on May 4 in compliance with the cease and desist order of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), which was issued upon the expiration of its 25-year franchise.

The order prohibits the network from airing its AM and FM radio stations, TV stations, and digital terrestrial television (DTTB). (Jove Moya/SunStar Philippines)