MEDIA- PRESS FREEDOM: MANILA- ‘An attack on press freedom, a charade’

Lighted candles are seen outside the ABS-CBN compound in Quezon City the other night following the rejection of the franchise renewal bid of the TV networkSTAR/ File

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MANILA, Philippines — The rejection of the ABS-CBN franchise renewal application in Congress was an attack on press freedom and a charade.

Three authors of the franchise renewal bills said this yesterday, as they questioned the resolution approved by the House legislative franchises committee that “killed” their bills.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza all argued that the resolution and report of the panel’s technical working group (TWG) were “contrary to the evidence presented during the 12 hearings.”

 

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“The TWG set aside what was proven in the hearings that ABS-CBN complied with all provisions of our Constitution statutes and regulations,” Rodriguez stressed.

“This is a big blow against press freedom in our country and deprived millions of Filipinos of news, entertainment and assistance,” lamented the chairman of the committee on constitutional amendments.

Lagman agreed and insinuated that the 12 hearings conducted by the panel “followed a foregone conclusion.”

“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. The Technical Working Group was part of the charade,” he alleged.

Lagman suspected the findings of the TWG, which came up with its report and resolution “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.”

 

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“The plight of the embattled network is mercifully over except for the herd voting where the dictates of partisanship would prevail over the demands of merit,” he pointed out.

“The result of the voting would show the hand of the Speaker wherein regular and voting ex-officio members of the committee on legislative franchises, over whom the Speaker has overriding influence, are expected to vote for the rejection of the franchise renewal as they would refuse to see that the facts and the law were indubitably in favor of ABS-CBN,” Lagman further alleged.

Atienza also took Cayetano to task over the outcome of the vote.

“The vote depended on the Speaker – he holds the baton, he is the orchestra leader. Speaker Cayetano said there”s a time for everything: this is not the time to get thousands jobless,” he alleged.

Proponents earlier expressed confidence that ABS-CBN would secure a franchise if only lawmakers would vote solely on the merits of the issues tackled during the hearing.

 

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Where are franchise bill authors?

How the voting of the House legislative franchises committee ended up came as a big surprise to proponents of the ABS-CBN franchise renewal bills.

From over 20 lawmakers who either authored the bills or publicly expressed support for the network’s franchise renewal application, the number of votes for ABS-CBN during voting last Friday dwindled to just 11.

They were outnumbered by 70 members who voted to adopt a resolution by the TWG that rejected the franchise bills.

Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto said she was puzzled why there were only 11 of them who voted in favor of granting the network’s franchise renewal application, when there were more sponsors and supporters earlier during the hearings.

“Just like most of you, I was surprised because initially, even during hearings, I knew that many of our colleagues are supporting the bill we fought for,” she admitted in a radio interview last Friday night.

“Why did we suddenly become this few? We had very significant number and then we became just 11. Even me, I personally cannot absorb (what happened),” the actress-turned-politician lamented.

There were over 20 authors of the franchise bills. Sixteen of them even issued a manifesto prior to the voting.

Apart from Santos, the other 15 were Reps. Sol Aragones, Arlene Brosas, Eufemia Cullamat, Lawrence Fortun, Mark Go, Rufus Rodriguez, Josephine Sato, Micaela Violago, Rosemarie Arenas, France Castro, Ferdinand Gaite, Loren Legarda, Joy Tambunting, Carlos Zarate and Sarah Elago.

 

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Some of the authors, however, were not members of the legislative franchises committee or ex-officio members and therefore not allowed to join the voting as provided under House rules.

Only three of the principal authors were allowed to vote – Santos, Aragones and Zarate – while eight others joined them in the minority vote: Reps. Christopher De Venecia, Gab Bordado, Lianda Bolilia, Ping Tejada, Beny Abante, Stella Quimbo, Mujiv Hataman and Edward Maceda.

Days before the voting, Abang Lingkod party-list Rep. Joseph Paduano withdrew his authorship of one of the ABS-CBN franchise bills while Kabayan Rep. Ron Salo moved to lay his bill proposing a new franchise on the table.

During voting, two authors – Nueva Ecija Rep. Micaela Violago and AKO Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. – did not vote in favor of the network.

Violago, ironically the first to file the franchise bill in the chamber, inhibited with Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas.

“I inhibit my right to vote, due to the allegations that I received financial consideration in exchange for my support to ABS CBN. I am categorically denying the allegations against me but out of delicadeza and in the spirit of public trust, I (am) inhibiting myself from voting,” Violago explained in a text message.

Vargas already explained that he opted to inhibit because of conflict of interest, explaining that he was a former actor who had projects with ABS-CBN.

Garbin has yet to explain why he abstained during voting.

Speaker Cayetano, who earlier called on colleagues to vote based on their conscience, did not participate in the voting. He explained that while he is allowed to vote as an ex-officio member of the committee, he has never participated in committee-level voting.

Legarda, a deputy speaker who is allowed to vote, also opted not to participate despite being an author of the franchise bill.

Santos lamented the development, recalling that the network was able to disprove the allegations of violations of franchise and laws during the 12 hearings.

But she believed there is still a possibility of ABS-CBN securing a franchise in the future.

“I truly believe… I’m still very optimistic, we can refile. That is still possible later on. As I said, it doesn’t end here,” Santos commented.

ABS-CBN integrated news and current affairs head Ging Reyes shared this optimism.

“There’s a chance that we can still get franchise in the future,” she told The Chiefs on One News last Friday night.

 

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Thousands unemployed

Sen. Sonny Angara said yesterday the non-operation of ABS-CBN may have affected more than 50,000 individuals from the banking, advertising and entertainment industries, among others.

“I did not expect the House committee will do that. About 10,000 employees, their children and other subsidiaries. The network is a big company paying billions in taxes, they have several partners and contracts. Those directly employed were not the only ones affected, even those providing services, supplies, directors, music and film writers, people from the production. Many people are too dependent and when economic activities stopped, they will lose the source of livelihood,” Angara said in Filipino in an interview over dwIZ.

 

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‘A dangerous precedent’

“At a time when we need every media outlet to disseminate life-saving information, we don’t shut down the one with the widest reach. When each and every job must be saved, we don’t cause the wholesale unemployment of thousands,” said Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto.

“ABS-CBN does not deserve the death penalty. If it erred, penalize it. Because if corporate misdeed is punishable with extinction, no business will be left standing in this land,” Recto added.

In a statement, the chapters of the Liberal Party said, “As Liberals, we stand for our rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Constitution. They enhance our lives as individuals and communities. In this instance, freedom of the press and our right to information have just been curtailed. And during this urgent health crisis, ABS-CBN’s extensive network would be missed by those in the far-flung areas for its news, educational programs, and entertainment.”

The non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise indeed sets a dangerous precedent for all other franchises, Sen. Grace Poe said yesterday.

“When you deny the privilege of broadcast to an entity which regulatory agencies have already certified as compliant, the game changes for all the players. Resolving that a franchise holder has violations beyond the terms and conditions of its franchise opens the floodgates for possible violations of all other franchise holders even without their knowledge until they have been told so by Congress,” the senator explained.


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7.12.2020

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