Makabayan bloc wants House plenary to vote on ABS-CBN franchise

Mara Cepeda
Makabayan bloc wants House plenary to vote on ABS-CBN franchise

NOISE BARRAGE. About 50 vehicles drive around the compound of ABS-CBN honking, shouting, lifting their fists, and holding some placards denouncing the rejection of the network's franchise by the congress on July 15, 2020.

Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

But veteran lawmaker Edcel Lagman, who backs ABS-CBN, doubts the House leadership would grant a reprieve to the embattled media network

The 6 Makabayan bloc lawmakers want the 301 members of the House of Representatives to debate and decide with finality on the future of ABS-CBN, citing “insecurities and doubts” in the committee decision to junk the network’s franchise bid.

The following progressive legislators wrote a letter to House committee on legislative franchises chair Franz Alvarez on Monday, July 20, a copy of which they publicized on Wednesday, July 22:

  • Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite, and Eufemia Cullamat, Bayan Muna
  • France Castro, ACT Teachers
  • Arlene Brosas, Gabriela Women’s Party
  • Sarah Elago, Kabataan

They are asking the legislative franchises panel to formally submit to the plenary the committee report and resolution that its members adopted after they overwhelmingly rejected ABS-CBN’s franchise about two weeks ago. 

The Makabayan bloc said it is only right for the rest of the House members to be given a chance to vote on the franchise of the beleaguered media network, since the panel voted against ABS-CBN “despite the absence of compelling reasons.”

“Even if the technical working group report is the most unsure and insecure document ever approved by a committee, the fact is, it was approved by many committee members. The next step, therefore, is to resolve [these] insecurities and doubts through a plenary debate and approval,” the Makabayan bloc said. 

The progressive lawmakers also cited a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showing a big majority of Filipinos believing Congress should grant ABS-CBN’s franchise bid. SWS released the data, however, after the House committee’s decision.

“Some committee members may question the public antagonism to the committee decision, and it is best therefore, that such issue be resolved in the plenary where members of the House can decide, whether they want to heed the voice of the people or not,” added the Makabayan bloc.

The House panel had pointed to ABS-CBN’s alleged foreign ownership and violations of various tax and labor laws as among the reasons for their refusal to allow the network to operate again. (READ: After junking franchise, House panel wants to probe ABS-CBN property, digital TV)

This is despite various government officials clearing the media giant of any breaches in the course of the franchise hearings. 

Former Ateneo School of Government dean Tony La Viña also said the House panel’s grounds to junk ABS-CBN’s franchise were “arbitrary” and the move was clearly a “political decision” made by lawmakers who are allied with President Rodrigo Duterte, who has long issued threats against the network.

In the wake of its franchise denial, the Philippines’ largest media network has already started retrenching its workers. ABS-CBN was ordered to cease its television and radio operations when its old franchise lapsed on May 4.

Kapamilya stars and employees have since been holding weekly noise barrages outside their headquarters in Quezon City to call for the reopening of their home network. 

Exercise in futility?

The question now is if the House leadership would even allow a reprieve for ABS-CBN. The odds are unfortunately against the network.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has a personal grudge against the media giant, accusing it of favoring candidates in the 2016 elections. Cayetano, Duterte’s running mate in the 2016 polls, ran but lost for vice president 4 years ago.

The Speaker has repeatedly defended the House’s move to kill ABS-CBN’s franchise, saying his colleagues supposedly did Filipinos a favor by moving against one of the oligarchs of the country: the Lopezes who own ABS-CBN. 

Three of ABS-CBN’s staunchest accusers in the House – Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Jesus Crispin Remulla, and Anakalusugan Representative Michael Defensor – now want to fine the network some P1.97 trillion and seize its property in Quezon City. (READ: Palace has ‘no stand’ on lawmakers’ proposed sanctions vs ABS-CBN – Roque)

Rappler has reached out to House legislative franchises chair Alvarez to verify if Makabayan’s proposal is allowed in the rules of the lower chamber, but he has yet to respond to our Viber messages.

Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman – who had defended ABS-CBN during the hearings – told Rappler there are no specific provisions in the House rules on how the plenary should proceed with rejected franchise bids. 

Still, the plenary has an “inherent jurisdiction” over the actions of any of the committees. But the veteran opposition congressman doubts the Cayetano-led majority would give ABS-CBN a second chance.

“With the ascendancy of Duterte over the House and the subservience of the Speaker to the President, any remedy within the 4 corners of the House is an exercise in futility,” Lagman said.

Read a full copy of the Makabayan bloc’s letter to the House committee on legislative franchises below:

– Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.