‘Big blow against press freedom’: ABS-CBN franchise bill authors slam panel verdict

Mara Cepeda

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But these lawmakers can't file an appeal on behalf of ABS-CBN, as only those who voted with the majority – the legislators who rejected the franchise – can make a motion for reconsideration as per House rules

PRESS FREEDOM. ABS-CBN Integrated News and Current Affairs chief Ging Reyes speaks during the candle-lighting ceremony outside their office after a House committee denied their franchise application on July 10, 2020. Photo by Jire Carreon/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Several authors of the 13 bills that would have granted ABS-CBN a franchise did not mince words against a House committee’s decision to junk their measures.

Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez told Rappler on Friday, July 10, that contrary to what the House committee on legislative franchises claims, its rejection of the media giant’s franchise is an attack on press freedom. (READ: ABS-CBN’s battle is also ours)

He said the findings of the technical working group (TWG), whose recommendations were later adopted by the mother committee, were contrary to the evidence presented during the hearings. 

“This is a big blow against press freedom in our country and deprived millions of Filipinos of new, entertainment and assistance!” Rodriguez said in a Viber message. 

ACT Teachers Representative France Castro, another co-author, said the vote only reflected the “determination” of President Rodrigo Duterte’s government to silence dissenters.

Duterte, who counts a majority of House members as his allies, have an axe to grind against ABS-CBN and have repeatedly said its franchise – which expired last May 4 – will not be renewed.  

“The Duterte administration’s determination to shut down ABS-CBN, the largest media network, shows how it uses a tyrannical rule to silence all its enemies, critics, and dissenters,” Castro said. 

Napakalaki ng epekto ng pagpapasara ng ABS-CBN sa 11,000 niyang mga empleyado at milyon-milyong mamamayang Pilipino na mawawalan ng access sa balita at impormasyon,” she added. 

(ABS-CBN’s closure has a huge impact on its 11,000 employees and the millions of Filipinos who will  lose access to news and information.)

Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate, who had delivered the closing arguments in favor of ABS-CBN, said the legislative franchises committee members ignored testimonies from government officials who cleared the network of any violations. 

Totally unacceptable ‘yong naging desisyon ng legislative franchises. They totally disregarded ‘yong testimonya ng mga resource persons. Hindi lang ito nakakalungkot, [it’s] even worrisome, to say the least,” Zarate said in a phone interview. 

(The decision of the legislative franchises committee is totally unacceptable. They totally disregarded the testimonies of the resource persons. This is not only saddening, it’s even worrisome, to say the least.)

Committee members who refused to grant ABS-CBN its franchise convincingly won, with 70 of them voting for rejection compared to the 11 who supported the network’s bid for a franchise.

Senators also condemned the House panel’s verdict, saying it sets a dangerous precedent for other media entities. Vice President Leni Robredo also believes the vote will have a “chilling effect” on journalists. 

ABS-CBN president and chief executive officer Carlo Katigbak said they were deeply hurt by the House panel’s decision. But he said ABS-CBN will find other ways to continue their mission of public service.  

Odds against ABS-CBN

Within 24 hours after the House committee handed down its verdict, a motion for reconsideration can be filed on behalf of ABS-CBN to challenge the panel’s decision. 

But the House rules only allow legislators who voted in the majority to file appeals.

That means ABS-CBN’s possible recourse rests on one of the 70 legislators who already rejected its franchise in the first place.

But Rodriguez is hopeful one of the 70 lawmakers would file the motion for reconsideration. This would force the House committee to hold another hearing, giving a chance for pro-ABS-CBN legislators to refute the findings of the panel.  

“We can refute the findings. Difficult to change the outcome but we will have chance to refute the TWG findings, hoping the others who voted to deny the franchise will change their minds,” Rodriguez said.

But the chances are bleak for ABS-CBN, which the National Telecommunications Commission ordered to close down when its franchise expired.

The same House committee also recommended the lower chamber to conduct other inquiries into the rightful owners of ABS-CBN’s property in Quezon City, government rules on digital TV technology, and the sale of Philippine Depositary Receipts by companies that are supposed to be 100% Filipino-owned, like the media. – Rappler.com

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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.