Broadcast giant ABS-CBN was shuttered after lawmakers voted 70-11 to reject bills that would have given the radio and TV network a new 25-year franchise. There was one abstention and two recusals.
“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,” said the resolution approved by the committees on legislative franchises and good government and public accountability.
The lawmakers—many of them allies of President Rodrigo Duterte—took pains to emphasize that their decision had nothing to do with press freedom, even though Duterte had threatened as early as 2018 to block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s license to operate.
READ: House committee junks ABS-CBN's franchise renewal in 70-11 vote
“By no means can this franchise application be related to press freedom,” their resolution read. “If it were so, then all applicants for legislative franchises covering mass media could simply claim such freedom and force the hand of this committee each time.”
ABS-CBN was ordered to stop operating on May 5 after its legislative franchise expired, even though there were several bills seeking its renewal pending in the House of Representatives.
The committees held the final hearing on the ABS-CBN franchise starting at 1 p.m. Friday and promptly started the voting on the “Resolution denying the franchise application of ABS-CBN Corporation to Construct, Install, Establish, Operate and Maintain Radio and Broadcasting Stations in the Philippines.”
On eve of the voting, the joint panel chaired by Reps. Franz Alvarez of Palawan and Jonathan Sy-Alvarado of Bulacan created a technical working group (TWG) to prepare the report that doomed ABS-CBN’s franchise application after having conducted 13 hearings.
READ: ABS franchise backers appeal for calm
Members of the working group were Deputy Speaker Pablo John Garcia, Camiguin Rep. Xavier Jesus Romualdo, and Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo, who dissented from the majority opinion in the TWG.
The TWG report said ABS-CBN violated its old franchise because its former chairman Eugenio Lopez III was a dual citizen. It also took issue with its issuance of Philippine depositary receipts that supposedly favored foreigners; inappropriate program content; meddling in politics; tax avoidance schemes; and “less than exemplary labor practices.”
But during the hearings, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and other government agencies cleared ABS-CBN of any tax violations.
The report said legislative franchises were a privilege and never a matter of right.
“[I]n view of the foregoing, the technical working group respectfully recommends the denial of the franchise application of ABS CBN Corporation,” it said.
The chamber’s decision to deny ABS-CBN a franchise marks an end of the media empire of the Lopez family that started right after World War II.
Palawan Rep. Alvarez, chairman of the franchise panel said the door is not totally closed on the network as the committee on franchises is willing to reopen hearings if a congressman files a fresh bill seeking a franchise for the network.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the authors of the ABS-CBN franchise bills, expressed dismay over the results of the voting.
“The protracted hearings conducted by the committees on legislative franchises and on good government followed a foregone conclusion, and despite ABS-CBN surviving the grueling legislative inquisition, it was slain at the end of the show with premeditation and abuse of superiority in numbers as aggravating circumstances,” Lagman said in a statement.
Opposers of the franchise renewal application led by Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta raised eight issues against the network–the dual citizenship of ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III; the issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts by ABS-CBN Holdings to foreign nationals; the irregular reacquisition of the broadcast facilities by the Lopez family after 1986 People Power Revolution; the 50-year constitutional limit on franchises; the network’s digital migration; its alleged labor malpractices; tax issues and biased news reporting.
Alvarez said the ABS-CBN can appeal before the joint committee and added that the decision of the committee to deny the franchise application will no longer be elevated to the chamber in plenary session for action.
He added that if any congressman refiles the same bill, the committee will reopen the discussion on the measure.
Lagman branded the TWG creation as “part of the charade.”
“While reasonable dispatch in the accomplishment of the work of a TWG is laudable, inordinate alacrity is suspect like in the case of the TWG, which recommended the denial of the application of ABS-CBN Corporation for a franchise renewal in less than 24 hours after it was formed and despite the fact that it had to review more than 100 hours of hearings, voluminous documents and records, as well as major contentious issues,” Lagman said.
Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun echoed Lagman’s disappointment, saying the decision of the committee will have a “massive chilling effect on mass media.”
“The TWG findings are a complete departure from the official position and statements of the departments, agencies, offices and independent organizations invited to the joint committee hearings. The TWG recommendation for a resolution denying the franchise is a departure from truth, justice and reason,” said Fortun, a member of the minority bloc.
“While I have to respect the decision of the majority, I am saddened that they voted to adopt a resolution that effectively denies millions of Filipinos access to important information and displaces thousands of breadwinners of thousands of families in the middle of a pandemic,” he added.
The closure of ABS-CBN puts in jeopardy the jobs of more than 11,000 workers under the broadcast network’s group of companies.
Sources said 11 lawmakers who opposed the resolution that shut ABS-CBN down were Deputy Speakers Mujiv Hataman of Basilan and Vilma Santos-Recto of Batangas; Laguna Rep. Sol Aragones; House Minority Leader and Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante; House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate; Pangasinan Rep. Christopher de Venecia; Camarines Sur Rep. Gabriel Bordado; Batangas Rep. Lianda Bolilia; North Cotabato Rep. Jose Tejada; Manila Rep. Edward Maceda and House Assistant Minority Leader and Marikina City Rep. Stella Quimbo.
It was also learned that Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas and Nueva Ecija Rep. Micaela Violago inhibited and Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin, Jr. abstained from the voting.
READ: Palace denies hand in lawmakers’ ruling
ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak said he looked forward to the day that they would “reunite under one broadcast.”
“We are deeply hurt that the committee on legislative franchises has denied the franchise application of ABS-CBN,” he said in a statement. “We believe that we have been rendering service that is meaningful and valuable to the Filipino public. Nevertheless, we would like to thank the committee for allowing us a chance to air our side on all the issues raised against us.
“ABS-CBN would like to thank all the congressmen who stood by their bills to renew our franchise, or who spoke out on our behalf during the hearings. We are forever grateful.
“We also thank everyone who expressed their support and offered their prayers for us. We could not have gotten to this point without you.
“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. Mga Kapamilya, thank you for keeping the faith with us.”
READ: The rise and fall of a giant network: A roller coaster ride
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