House seeks comments on ABS-CBN franchise

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has urged critics and supporters of ABS-CBN to send to the House of Representatives their position papers and comments on the proposed renewal of the radio-television network’s broadcasting franchise.

House seeks comments on ABS-CBN franchise
RAGE AGAINST THE DYING OF THE LIGHT. Employees of local broadcast giant ABS-CBN hold lighted candles and placards during a protest in front of the company's building in Manila on Feb. 14, 2020. Philippine government lawyers moved on Feb. 10 to strip the nation's biggest media group of its operating franchise in what campaigners branded a fresh attack on press freedom under President Rodrigo Duterte. AFP
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He made the appeal as he reiterated that the House would do an impartial job in considering bills seeking to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise.

He said he had been monitoring comments in social media and the mainstream media for and against granting the network the privilege to continue its broadcast services.

“So, what I request is we join the issues. All those opposed to renewing the franchise, submit your comments to the House committee on legislative franchises, which will forward these to ABS-CBN so they can already respond. That’s the way our democracy works,” Cayetano said.

Meanwhile, three citizen groups have added their voice to the chorus of objections to the Duterte administration’s crackdown on ABS-CBN, condemning it on socio-economic, political and legal grounds.

In separate statements, Bantay Konsyumer, Kuryente, Kalsada, CitizenWatch Philippines and Democracy Watch Philippines assailed Solicitor General Jose Calida’s quo warranto petition against the network, saying it threatened the livelihood of thousands of families/consumers, sent a negative message to investors, usurped the mandate of Congress, abused power to silence the President’s critics, and disregarded the rule of law.

‘Franchise violated’

Calida’s petition seeks to revoke the network’s license, saying it had violated the terms of its congressional franchise.

BK3, through lead convenor Louie Montemar, said the revocation of the franchise would lead to a loss of jobs for ABS-CBN’s 6,730 regular employees – a threat not just to the workers but their entire families, who are all consumers.

CitizenWatch Philippines convenor Orlando Oxales, meanwhile, placed the number of potentially unemployed to 11,000 to include regular and other workers of the network.

This would threaten to widen anew the rate of adult joblessness in the country, which had already improved to 17.5 percent in December 2019 from 21.5 percent the previous September.

“Are we this shallow in making decisions?” Montemar asked in Filipino.

“Must we trifle with the jobs of the many just because of a personal grudge?”

At the same time, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman slammed Cayetano’s statement that time was not essential in regard to the renewal of the franchise, due to expire on March 30, 2020.

In statement, Lagman said, “The reasons proffered by Speaker Alan Cayetano for foot-dragging on the renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN are not so overriding as to sacrifice the freedoms of the press and expression for expediency.”

Lagman also assailed Cayetano’s proposed “illusory” remedy for the television network to continue broadcasting in the event its franchise was not renewed.

Remarks ‘illusory’

According to Lagman, Cayetano’s remarks the TV network could continue operations by securing a provisional authority from the National Telecommunications Commission as long as the 18th Congress had not adjourned sine die was illusory.

At the same time, the women’s alliance Gabriela has deplored President Rodrigo Duterte’s attempts to shut down ABS-CBN through a quo warranto petition filed by the Solicitor General before the Supreme Court.

“We take this not only as an attack on ABS-CBN as a media institution but a link in a long chain of systematic attacks of the current administration against the exercise of the rights and freedoms of the Filipino people,” said Gabriela in a statement.

Gabriela said stifling free speech and silencing the free press had always been a hallmark of a tyrannical regime.

It said Duterte, since assuming the presidency, had mounted systematic campaigns by mobilizing government resources such as the Solicitor General’s office to suppress the media, go after political opponents, and target political activists critical of his administration.

“The quo warranto petition is Duterte’s dictatorial hand putting a guarantee that ABS-CBN will be intimidated and cowered into silence despite the results of a legislative re-franchising process already set in motion,” it said.

“We rise and stand with ABS-CBN because we rise and stand with a free press, with upholding the people’s right to know and be informed of government actions, with a democracy that is not hijacked by a tyrant in Malacañang,” Gabriela said.

Government complaints

Cayetano noted that Calida had ventilated the government’s complaints against the network in the quo warranto petition.

“On one hand, I would rather the SolGen did not file it. But on the other hand, at least, people are now talking about the issues. As for me, I am open-minded. I have read the reply of ABS-CBN to the SolGen and I am waiting for their official comment,” he said.

The Supreme Court has given the network 10 days to submit an answer.

“I think this is the way to find a solution. Welcome the issues against ABS-CBN, but also welcome their reply, so that we can finally get somewhere with all of these,” Cayetano said.

At the same time, the Speaker urged all stakeholders to not equate press freedom with the ABS-CBN franchise.

He said press freedom would not die if the station’s broadcasting privilege were not renewed.

“If press freedom is automatic, then there should be no more hearings in Congress (on the ABS-CBN franchise). We will just have to grant it automatically. But no, Congress has to legislate it. In America, a radio-TV station can endorse a candidate in an election. They have their own law. In our case, we have the Fair Elections Act, which contains a right of reply provision,” he said.

Cayetano pointed out that he understands the concerns of those fighting for press freedom.

“But this is not an open-close case of press freedom. It’s also accountability to our present laws, especially election laws. Personally, that’s what I want to hear when the hearings are held, what reforms ABS-CBN will undertake to address their perceived bias and alleged violations of their franchise,” he said.

‘City of stars’

This developed as Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte, in a statement on Saturday, said “we stand by and fully support ABS-CBN in its pursuit of a fresh 25-year franchise to operate.”

“Being the home of ABS-CBN, GMA-7 and other media outfits has turned Quezon City into a ‘City of Stars’,” Belmonte said.

“By tradition, Quezon City is also known as a bastion of freedom, knowledge, and diversity, and the presence of multiple media networks in QC embodies these values,” she added.

Belmonte said that aside from being one of the city’s top taxpayers, “ABS-CBN employs thousands of our city’s constituents, whose families would suffer should its legislative franchise not be renewed.”

“More than this however, ABS-CBN has a long-standing relationship with our city that goes beyond its media identity. It has supported many of the city’s most significant programs and projects,” Belmonte said.

While Calida has denied the hand of the President in his move, Duterte has, on several occasion, publicly attacked ABS-CBN, supposedly for not airing his political advertisements during the 2016 campaign, and himself threatened to cause the revocation of the network’s franchise.

In 2017, he went on record that he was “willing to shake hands with [ABS-CBN]” so long as the network devoted some air time to the promotion of federalism, which he was pushing at that time.

BK3 added that investors will have no certainty in doing business here in the Philippines, because regulations can change depending on the whim of the incumbent.

Oxales assailed the usurpation of the mandate of Congress to grant or reject the franchise renewal. ABS-CBN’s 25-year franchise is expiring next month; bills now at the House of Representatives are seeking its renewal.

‘Dangerous precedent’

But it was the Supreme Court, belonging to yet another branch of government before which Calida brought the matter.

According to CitizenWatch, the issue sets a dangerous precedent and is a disturbing trend following the Manila Water and Maynilad consortium agreement controversy which will cause a crisis of confidence in our regulatory environment being reckless and unstable.

“If government can simply assail a media institution as retribution for an individual peeve, the country’s credibility as a nation ruled by laws will be damaged,” Oxales said.

Meanwhile, Democracy Watch Philippines denounced the “Duterte Administration’s weaponized rule by law to threaten its critics and brazen disrespect to due process in its obsession to wrest away the franchise of ABS-CBN.”

Speaking on behalf of his group, convenor Paco Pangalangan said that the administration of President Duterte has “used disinformation and scandalous labels to drum up populist sentiments against its political targets.”

Democracy Watch added that “Solicitor General Calida’s move is not only a gross attempt to set aside due process but is yet another instance of the Duterte administration selectively wielding its authority to harass and stifle criticism and opposition.”

The organization called upon legislators to exercise their power to renew franchises, to defend the right to a free media and to stand up for their constituents’ right to be truthfully informed.

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READ: 17 senators close ranks for ABS

READ: House to ABS-CBN: You get fair shake

READ: ABS-CBN issues statement on OSG's quo warranto petition

Topics: Alan Peter Cayetano , House of Representatives , ABS-CBN , Louie Montemar
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