For 70-11 Votes: ABS-CBN Franchise Application Denied by the Lawmakers For Stronger Grounds of Violations

ABS-CBN Franchise Application Denied
Lawmakers denied bid of ABS-CBN franchise renewal for another 25 years - July 10, 2020 

House panel denies ABS-CBN’s bid for fresh franchise

ABS-CBN will stay off the air as a House of Representatives panel denied its application for a fresh 25-year franchise.

In an overwhelming 70-11 vote, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises adopted the report of its technical working group not to grant ABS-CBN a new franchise. Two other lawmakers inhibited and one abstained during the panel’s meeting attended by 84 members physically and via teleconferencing amid the coronavirus crisis.

Early into the meeting, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate protested that some of them were not consulted by the technical working group, but Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor said it was Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo who dissented in behalf of the minority.

Defensor explained that the panel’s decision effectively “killed” ABS-CBN’s franchise bid at the House of Representatives, calling it a “historic moment.”

However, House Minority Leader Benny Abante told CNN Philippines that the media giant can file a motion for reconsideration. Lawmakers can also file a new bill seeking a new franchise for the network once Congress resumes session on July 27, he said.

Not a press freedom issue?

The legislative franchises committee, in the TWG report obtained by the media, stressed that the decision to deny ABS-CBN a franchise “is in no way related to the freedom of the press." It said it was just “a denial of a privilege granted by the State because the applicant was seen as undeserving of the grant of a legislative franchise.”

President Rodrigo Duterte had publicly threatened ABS-CBN over the network's refusal to carry his campaign commercials in 2016, but later accepted its apology.

MalacaƱang said it had no hand in the decision of the congressional panel, which is dominated by the President’s allies

"The Palace has maintained a neutral stance on the issue as it respects the separation of powers between the two co-equal branches government. 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.

Long fight for franchise

The lower chamber in late May began tackling ABS-CBN’s franchise application bid following online and on-ground appeals from netizens, employees, lawmakers, and rights groups.

The hours-long deliberations shed light on topics hounding the company— including ownership and operational issues, and supposed tax liabilities, among others. ABS-CBN had refuted allegations hurled against it.

The company’s broadcast operations halted two months ago following the expiry of its franchise, in compliance with the National Telecommunications Commission’s shutdown order. The digital TV transmissions of Lopez-owned Sky Direct as well as of TV Plus programs have also been halted in line with a June 30 NTC order.

The network's digital platforms— including online news websites, video streaming services, and social media sites— have continued to operate. It also has a pending petition at the Supreme Court against NTC's cease and desist order.

ABS-CBN franchise bill author withdraws

Another lawmaker has withdrawn co-authorship of one of 12 bills seeking to grant a franchise to embattled media network ABS-CBN Corp. as the House of Representatives prepares to vote on the issue.

Abang Lingkod party-list Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano was the second lawmaker to withdraw authorship after Kabayan party-list Ron Salo, who on Monday dropped House Bill 6901.

“Though it is hard for me, I came to a conclusion that I am withdrawing my co-authorship of House Bill 3713 that aims to grant the renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN,” Paduano said in his manifestation speech in a hearing on Thursday.

Paduano said the extensive discussions during the past 12 hearings had been an “eye-opener” on the “revelations” that led to his decision. Among the issues he cited were the network’s “seeming” “engagement with tax avoidance scheme by availing fiscal perks” through its subsidiary Big Dipper, and several issues on fairness and balanced reporting.

He asked for apologies and understanding from ParaƱaque City Rep. Joy Myra Tambunting, principal author of the bill, and ABS-CBN chief Carlo Katigbak.

After the summation of the parties in favor and against the franchise held on Thursday, Committee on Legislative Franchises chairman Franz Alvarez directed the technical working group (TWG) to study and draft its recommendations on the application of franchise that will be presented to the committee on Friday, 1 p.m. The members of the committee were asked to log in early for an organizational meeting prior to the hearing proper.

In a virtual forum on Thursday morning, Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said voting on the franchise might be held on Friday.

“As we approach the final and most critical part of our deliberation, we call on our members to base their decision on their appreciation of facts and testimonies presented by all sides,” Alvarez said.

“I know that many of us are still weighing on what should be granted to ABS-CBN. Does it deserve to be given a franchise anew or should ABS-CBN be ended? That is our assignment tonight. That is our responsibility to God and the country,” Good Government and Public Accountability Chairman Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado said.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said, “Whatever the outcome of these hearings, I am satisfied that what we have heard can be the basis of a legally and morally sound decision — whether Congress grants the Lopezes another 25-year franchise or denies the application.”

He warned everyone “to refrain from making any speculations — or worse — resorting to spreading false information that can muddle the issue.”

“Believe me, nothing will come out of it. Except maybe more grief for your cause as no member of Congress wants to be manipulated. Despite everything that has been said and done, I am hopeful that we will be able to rise above our partisan sentiments for the good of the nation, and the strengthening of our democracy,” he said.

Majority Leader Martin Romualdez also called on the voting members to be guided by the Constitution and existing laws in making their decision.

During his summation for the side of those in favor of the franchise, Zarate asserted that there had been no violations proven on the issues on citizenship, Philippine Depositary Receipts, tax, labor practices and reportage as disproved by concerned government agencies.

A leading opponent of granting the franchise, Deputy Speaker and Sagip Party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, detailed all the alleged violations that he believed ABS-CBN has failed to rebut, especially during the last two hearings when the blocktime agreement with Amcara and the alleged biased reporting and meddling in politics were discussed.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman and ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Go Yap disclosed that an alleged emissary from ABS-CBN reached out to him, urging him to vote in favor of the network in exchange for money.

“More than two weeks ago, may tumawag sa atin, nagpakilalang emisaryo ng ABS-CBN at hinihimok tayong bumoto pabor sa ABS-CBN kapalit ng P200 milyon. Simple lang ang sagot ko — hindi for sale ang prinsipyo at boto ko (someone called me, introducing himself as an emissary of ABS-CBN, urging me to vote in favor of ABS-CBN in exchange for P200 million.

My answer was simple, my principle and vote are not for sale),” Yap said in a statement late Wednesday evening.

Yap, however, clarified that he could not confirm if the caller was indeed from ABS-CBN.

In an official statement released Thursday, ABS-CBN denied that it sent an emissary and stressed that it has confidence in the process.

In a forum on Thursday, Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas, one of the authors of the 12 franchise bills, and Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun denied allegations circulating in social media that they have been paid to support the ABS-CBN franchise.

“These are very serious allegations pero walang basehan (but have no basis),” Fortun said.
Occidental Mindoro lone district Rep. Josephine Sato believed that Congress would grant the renewal of ABS-CBN franchise.

Sato told The Manila Times in an interview on Thursday, “Malakas din ang mga arguments at pwersa nung kabila. At this time I don’t want to hazard a guess kung mananalo o hindi mananalo (The [no franchise] side has strong arguments. At this time, I don’t want to hazard a guess whether it will win or not).”

“I am praying very hard that all the voting members of the legislative franchises committee can find it in their hearts to really see that we have answered all the issues that provisions of the constitutions that the long line of jurisprudence and even international conventions favor the grant of renewal of ABS-CBN franchise,” she said.

She said ABS-CBN has become an institution and the source of news and information for practically 70 million or 80 million people in the country.

As an author of the bill, Sato said she wanted it to be approved “kasi pag di napasa sa committee ay patay na ‘yon — unless igrant nila ‘yung motion for reconsideration, unless makakuha kami ng pamamaraan na maidala ‘yan sa plenaryo for the whole congress to discuss and vote on it (Because if it does not pass at the committee, it’s dead — unless it grants the motion for reconsideration, unless we find a way to bring it to the plenary).”

Expected to present their summations are Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, author of one of the authors of 12 franchise bills, and Deputy Speaker Marcoleta.

The committee has yet to schedule a date for the voting, according to Legislative Franchises Chairman Franz Alvarez.

Aside from the 46 members of the Committee on Legislative Franchises, 48 House leaders or ex-officio members will also vote for the first reading at the committee level. Two of the ex-officio members are also regular members of the committee.

If approved, the bill will be presented to the plenary for deliberations and voting for the second and third reading. If rejected, the franchise bills will not advance to the plenary level.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri has appealed to the House to give the ABS-CBN a chance to reform its supposed wrongdoings by amending its franchise rather than “completely close it down.”

In a virtual interview on Thursday, Zubiri said, “I’m sad for our economy as it would lose billions of pesos of sorely needed tax revenues.”

Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa in a separate virtual interview, also urged House members to vote on ABC-CBN franchise renewal according to their conscience. 

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