MANILA — ABS-CBN Corporation is facing an uphill battle in its bid to secure a new franchise with majority of lawmakers at the House of Representatives adamant at allowing the network to reopen.
Documents show majority of lawmakers are likely to vote against granting ABS-CBN a new franchise.
According to a news report by Divina Nova Joy Dela Cruz of the Manila Times, an initial tally of votes showed that 25 lawmakers were likely to vote in favor of the network, 57 were likely to oppose a new franchise, while 10 were unsure.
Hearings on the alleged violations of ABS-CBN by the Joint Committee on Legislative Franchises and on Good Government and Public Accountability were concluded on Monday.
Over the past few months, there had been 12 hearings that extensively tackled the network’s alleged violations of its franchise, the Constitution, labor and tax laws, and biased reporting and meddling in politics.
Voting on the grant of a new franchise will be held after the summation of the hearings on Thursday the Manila Times said although Legislative Franchises Committee Chairman Franz Alvarez has yet to schedule a date for voting.
Aside from the 46 members of the Committee on Legislative Franchises, 46 House leaders or ex-officio members will also vote for the first reading at the committee level. If approved, the bill granting a new franchise will be presented to the plenary for deliberations and voting for the second and third reading. If rejected, the franchise bills will no longer reach the plenary level.
Last Monday, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano urged lawmakers to cast a “conscience vote.”
The same was seconded by President Duterte in a PNA news report Tuesday.
“I cannot speak for the parties, kasi mag-uusap-usap din sila (because they will discuss among themselves). But from the start, we’ve been urging a conscience vote,” Cayetano told reporters.
Cayetano decided not to testify in the hearing on the alleged biased-reporting of ABS-CBN so as not to “sway” the other lawmakers. He said he would submit a written position to the committee on his view that the network had been biased in the coverage and placement of advertisements during the 2016 elections when he ran for vice president as the running mate of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“So, it’s really important for me that at the end of the day, the Filipino knows what the decision is, why Congress decided that way. So, hopefully, these 12 hearings somehow shed light on the many, many innuendos and issues na nababasa naman natin sa (that we’ve been reading on) social media at napapakinggan natin, napapanood, at nababasa sa (and what we hear, watch and read in) traditional media,” he said.
The Manila Times further said in its report that on Monday, Kabayan party-list Rep. Ron Salo withdrew his authorship of House Bill 6901, one of the 13 bills seeking to grant a franchise to ABS-CBN, saying the network failed to disprove the allegations hurled against it.
Salo said his party-list is “convinced that the pieces of evidence presented, discussed and distilled in the hearings favor the oppositors.”
“My party-list group deems that ABS-CBN failed to successfully rebut the long list of alleged violations. And thus, this representation cannot anymore support the grant of a new franchise to ABS-CBN,” he said.
Salo also appealed to the ABS-CBN management to help its employees who might lose their jobs during the pandemic.
“My heart grieves for the ABS-CBN employees who face possible displacement, particularly at this time of the pandemic. As an act of redemption for its employees, I hope that ABS-CBN will be generous enough to attend to its employees’ needs in these difficult times as it may be its last act of magnanimity to the people it has considered its family,” he said.
“In any case, I am also certain that this will just be a temporary setback to the majority of its employees as other networks and stations will readily accept a workforce that comes with proven talents and expertise,” Salo added.
Anakalusugan party-list Michael Defensor believed that the issues had been discussed thoroughly and that there had been violations.
“I think overall the [joint-]committees were able to discuss thoroughly the issues lined up for interpellation,” Defensor told The Manila Times.
“I would like to separate the issues into two categories. One is constitutional and the others are violations of laws on labor, taxation, among others. I have asked the hard questions and exposed the anomalies. There were violations and the question is, [are these] enough not to qualify them for a franchise? I will state my vote in the near future,” Defensor added.
Meanwhile, for Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun, there had been no violations on the side of ABS-CBN as sufficiently stated by concerned government agencies on the issues of citizenship, Philippine Depositary Receipts, tax, labor practices and reportage.
Fortun said there were reforms that need to be instituted in the industry but these must be addressed through legislation in Congress, commitment of media organizations to make reforms within their companies, and the vigilance of the people. But he stressed “shutting down a mass media corporation is certainly not the right thing to do.”
He appealed to the members of the committee to heed the call of Cayetano for a conscience vote.
“This is most welcome and we appeal to the members of the committee to seek divine guidance and consult their conscience whether or not denying the franchise of ABS-CBN, depriving millions of our Filipinos, of our people access to information and entertainment and causing massive unemployment in the middle of a pandemic are consistent with prudent judgment, justice and equity,” Fortun said during the hearing on Monday.
The Kabataan party-list also believe that ABS-CBN has complied with the provisions and requirements of its previous franchise and deserves new franchise “that will enable it to continue its broadcasting service to 19 million Filipino households out of 21 million nationwide and over 3 million Filipinos overseas, especially in this time of a pandemic where news and information dissemination, even entertainment, is as critical as a need.”
“The fault-finding against ABS-CBN has gone too far, leaving more jobs lost and millions of Filipinos without access to news and entertainment. Amid the pandemic when firms are closing and downsizing with millions of displaced workers, and unemployment is at an all-time high, the government must focus instead on supporting local enterprises and preserving jobs,” Kabataan party-list Rep. Sarah Elago said.
As lawmakers prepare to vote on the fate of the giant network, Malacañang said President Rodrigo Duterte remains “neutral.”
“Ang Presidente naman po sinabi niya (The President has always said), the members of Congress can vote according to their conscience dahil siya po ay neutral (because he is neutral on the matter),” Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said.
He issued the statement after the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) urged the President to support ABS-CBN.
The PCEC on Monday said it was “praying for compassion and entreating” lawmakers to “decide virtuously for the good of our country and the suffering families affected by the issue.”
“We also appeal to our President Rodrigo Duterte to give his crucial support for the renewal of the franchise, and may there soon be an opportunity for President Duterte and the leadership of ABS-CBN to engage in reconciliatory talks,” PCEC National Director Bishop Noel Pantoja said in a statement.
The National Telecommunications Commission shut down the operations of ABS-CBN on May 5 after its franchise expired. (With reports by The Manila Times)