“A BLACK day for all Filipinos.”
This was how the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) described last Friday’s events in which 70 House representatives denied media giant ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal application.
In a statement, the KBP said the decision of the House will impact not only ABS-CBN, but also all other broadcast media firms and Filipinos “who believe in the promotion of media platforms to serve as marketplaces for the free discourse of ideas.”
“We believe that ABS-CBN bravely and ably defended itself against the charges hurled at it, justifying why it is entitled to the franchise it sought from Congress,” it said.
“The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) has stood four-square behind the greatest battle that ABS-CBN went through in its bid for a fresh 25-year franchise,” it added.
While it respects the power of Congress to grant public franchises that are clothed with social responsibility, the KBP said it will continue to assert its independence as guaranteed by Section 4 of the Bill of Rights of the Philippine Constitution that states that “no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of the press.”
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas considered the House of Representatives’ decision to deny ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal an “irresponsible” move.
Villegas, a former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said the time will come when those who abuse their power will face retribution.
“Whatever we do to the poor and to the needy, we do to Christ. And there will be a day of judgment for our crimes against the poor and the needy,” Villegas said in a statement.
“We continue to place our trust in the Lord of history, who guides the destinies of men and nations,” he added.
The House committee on legislative franchises, in a vote of 70-11, adopted on Friday, July 10, the recommendation of its technical working group (TWG) to reject the bills seeking to grant ABS-CBN a fresh franchise.
The lawmakers said the decision was due to the TV network’s alleged “numerous violations” of the terms of its old franchise, which lapsed last May 4.
But Villegas said the House’s decision will deprive Filipinos of one source of information in the eye of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, while also leaving thousands of people unemployed.
“Granting a franchise is indeed a legislative prerogative. Our Catholic faith teaches us, however, that all power comes from God and therefore must be wielded responsibly. The exercise of power must always be ordered towards the common good,” said Villegas.
Worse, he added, is that the lawmakers’ actions were in deference to the desire of President Rodrigo Duterte. Villegas noted how Duterte’s threats to close ABS-CBN were a matter of public record, and that such a promise was fulfilled by the Lower House.
“Now that the matter of the franchise has been dealt a final blow by the Lower House, can our people be blamed for the perception that Congress, supposedly a fiercely independent body of the people’s representatives, has bent over in subservience to the President?” he asked.
Several legislators also expressed dismay over the decision to junk the bills seeking to provide ABS-CBN a new franchise.
“The findings of the TWG are contrary to the evidence presented during the 12 hearings. The TWG set aside what was proven in the hearings that the ABS-CBN complied with all provisions of our Constitution statutes and regulations,” Cagayan de Oro Second District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said in a Viber message.
Magdalo Party-List Rep. Manuel Cabochan stressed that ABS-CBN proved that it did not commit any tax violations.
“As the proceedings both in the Senate and the House have revealed, ABS-CBN had no tax violations or any pending case to prevent its renewal of franchise. All requirements concerning its franchise are also complied with,” he said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros called the decision an “outrageous act of political persecution,” saying, “The political persecution of ABS-CBN sends a chilling message to Filipino media practitioners and journalists: Toe the line or get shut down.”
The Palace, however, maintained on Friday, July 10, its neutral stance on the issue. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the decision on whether to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise for another 25 years lies solely with Congress.
“The decision of the House of Representatives committee on legislative franchises denying the franchise application of ABS-CBN Corp. is a sole prerogative of Congress that we in the Executive recognize,” he said.
“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,” Roque added. (WBS, SunStar Philippines)