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House panel denies ABS-CBN franchise application


The House Committee on Legislative Franchises on Friday voted to deny the franchise application of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation.

The panel adopted the Technical Working Group’s (TWG) Committee Resolution recommending the denial of the network's franchise application through 70 yes votes, 11 no votes, and three who did not participate.

Based on the TWG report, ABS-CBN violated its old franchise, described by the panel as a privilege, because of the following reasons: its former Chairman Eugenio Lopez III was both a Filipino and American citizen, the issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts supposedly favoring foreigners, inappropriate program content, meddling in politics, tax avoidance schemes; less than exemplary labor practices, among others.

The TWG also said ABS-CBN cannot invoke the freedom of the press in justifying its franchise application.

“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. By no means can this franchise application be related to press freedom. 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,” the Committee Resolution read.

“Such a scenario is totally inconsistent with the nature of legislative franchises as a mere privilege and never a matter of right.  Wherefore, in view of the foregoing, the technical working group respectfully recommends the DENIAL of the franchise application of ABS CBN Corporation,” it added.

The TWG members include Deputy Speaker Pablo John Garcia, Representatives XJ Romualdo of Camiguin and Stella Quimbo of Marikina. Among them, only Quimbo dissented.

The no vote came more than two months after the network’s franchise lapsed on May 4.

Deeply hurt

ABS-CBN said it was “deeply hurt” by the House panel decision.

“We are deeply hurt that the Committee on Legislative Franchises has denied the franchise application of ABS-CBN,” ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak said in a statement.

“We believe that we have been rendering service that is meaningful and valuable to the Filipino public,” Katigbak said.

“Nevertheless, we would like to thank the Committee for allowing us a chance to air our side on all the issues raised against us,” he said.

Palace accepts decision

Shortly after the voting, Malacañang said it accepts the decision of the House panel.

“Much as we want to work with the aforesaid media network, we have to abide by the resolution of the House committee,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.

Roque also said the denial of the application was the “sole prerogative of Congress that we in the Executive recognize.”

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and AlterMidya, meanwhile, criticized the House panel decision.

The NUJP described said that with the decision, the 18th Congress has declared itself an “enemy of democracy.” On the other hand, AlterMidya said the franchise denial is also a warning that if the administration could shut down the broadcast giant, “every journalist should think twice before it reports truthfully, or criticizes and dares hold government to account.”

Instructions?

Ahead of the voting, Buhay party-list Representative Lito Atienza said that the House members will only vote based on instructions of the Speaker Alan Cayetano.

“[The] vote will depend on the speaker -- he holds the baton, he is the orchestra leader,” Atienza said in an ANC interview.

Atienza also said that this is not the time to put thousands of people out of work amid COVID-19 pandemic.

“Speaker Cayetano said there's a time for everything, [and] this is not the time to get thousands jobless,” Atienza said.

ABS-CBN went off air on May 5 after the National Telecommunications Commission issued a cease and desist against the network for lack of franchise.

NTC’s May 5 action was a turnaround from NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba’s statement before the House of Representatives in March that they will issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN given that the House and the Senate made communications stating they are in favor of such issuance.

The bills seeking franchise renewal for ABS-CBN have been pending since 2014 but the House only decided to start its deliberations on these proposals on March 10 this year.

Under the Constitution, "no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances." — KBK/RSJ, GMA News

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