CEBU

'Denying ABS-CBN franchise not press freedom issue'

MANILA. Supporters of the country's largest TV network ABS-CBN holds slogans during a rally outside the House of Representatives in Manila, Philippines, Thursday, July 9, 2020. (AP)

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

The House technical working group (TWG) said the broadcast network's franchise application “is in no way related to the freedom of the press."

Carlo Katigbak, ABS-CBN president and chief executive officer, expressed "deep sadness" over the decision of the House committee on legislative franchises, but thanked the lawmakers for hearing out the network executives during the hearing.

He mentioned the bill sponsors who pushed for the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise and the House members who spoke in favor of the network's continued operation.

Speaking in Tagalog in an ABS-CBN telecast, Katigbak said they in the network believe that they were able to give service that was meaningful and important to Filipinos.

"We will continue to serve the public and hope we can find ways to fulfill our mission. We look forward to the day when we can be together again," he said.

"Mere privilege"

The TWG—tasked to study ABS-CBN's application—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.

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

The committee voted on the recommendation of the TWG tasked to study the application following 12 marathon hearings.

The group composed of Cebu Third District Rep. 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.

Fallen giant tree

Cebu City North District Rep. Raul del Mar said this about the denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal: "A giant tree has fallen. We all heard its fall. We have still to see though how it would affect our lives and the land where it once stood."

"I grieve the action by the House committee on franchises, which killed the hope of ABS-CBN Corp. to reopen. Just not a good time, with the pandemic and all to shut down a broadcast network, the major source of news and entertainment to many Filipinos here and abroad," he said.

He felt dismayed as he was unable to take part in the public hearings of the committee as he was not part of it. However, he respects the decision of the House committee, saying ABS-CBN was afforded due process.

“Yet I share the dismay of some of my colleagues who, not being members of the committee, were not able to take part in the public hearings of the committee. The debate and vote, which I helped push for, could’ve been more fully given and appreciated had it reached the plenary session,” said del Mar.

Other views

Other quarters expressed the opinion that the House's move attacks the freedom of the press.

Lawyer Amando Virgil Ligutan said on his Facebook post: “As we have observed during the hearings, the House of Representatives was hell-bent on denying ABS-CBN a franchise renewal, using personal and, oftentimes, petty reasons the members of the House can think of."

Militant group Bayan Central Visayas said it "vehemently condemns" the franchise denial.

"This decision is not only a blatant attack against press freedom, but also a denial of the people’s right to knowledge," it said.

Majority of the representatives are allies of President Rodrigo Duterte, who had said last year that he would make sure ABS-CBN's franchise would not be renewed.

"Inhumane act"

Cebu City South District Rep. Rodrigo Abellanosa did not favor the shutting down of the country's media giant.

“In this time of the pandemic when businesses are closing down, people are losing jobs and getting hungry, the economy is on the verge of collapse, the decision shutting down the ABS-CBN is very inhumane, absolutely out of sense and timing. While government agencies such as SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) and BIR (Bureau of the Internal Revenue) did not concur to the alleged wrongdoings of ABS-CBN, these are not well-established and should have been better left to the courts to resolve,” he said.

Vigilance

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGCP) Cebu called on all student publications and student journalists to remain vigilant "as the targeting of the biggest media network in the country would mean difficulty for those in small media outfits," including student publications.

Fr. Bobby Ebisa, SVD, president of the Kapisanan Ng Mga Brodkaster Ng Pilipinas (KBP) Cebu Chapter, said they remain an ally of the ABS-CBN employees in Central Visayas. Ebisa, who manages radio dyRF, said the official statement on the ABS-CBN predicament will come from the KBP national office.

Motion

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

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 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.

ABS-CBN was first shut down in 1972 at the onset of President Ferdinand Marcos' authoritarian rule. The network was reopened after democratic institutions were restored following the 1986 People Power Revolution that toppled Marcos. (JJL, WBS & SUNSTAR PHILIPPINES)


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