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House rejects ABS-CBN 25-year franchise application

MANILA, July 10 – Philippine lawmakers on Friday formally rejected the bill granting the application of the ABS-CBN franchise, which restricts the rights of the network to broadcast.

85 representatives, with 46 regular members and 39 ex-officio members composed the panel in the decision of the legislative franchise.

The House Franchise committee Technical Working Group first recommended a resolution denying ABS-CBN a new franchise based on the initial determination made by its members.

The panel then voted on the Committee Resolution, a resolution denying the franchise application of ABS-CBN Corporation to Construct, Install, Establish, Operate and Maintain Radio & Broadcasting Stations in the Philippines.

Members participating through videoconference casted their votes through calls or text messages to the Committee Secretariat, as the committee convened in a hybrid session.

70 members voted yes to the resolution of the denial of the network’s application, only 11 voted to pursue the franchise renewal, two members were inhibited, and one counted as abstain.

The House committees on legislative franchises, along with good government and public accountability facilitated 13 joint committee hearings, which spanned over a month.

12 bills were filed with the 18th Congress for the renewal of the TV network’s franchise. But the Committee only started discussing the pending bills of ABS-CBN after the shutdown order of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) last May 5. Hearings mostly focused on the complaints against the media giants, and news coverage unfavorable to some members of the house. 

During the summation hearing, Rodante Marcoleta, one of the representatives who were against the franchise renewal said on Thursday, ABS-CBN committed violations to the Constitution and other pertinent laws.

“National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) itself confirmed that based on its existing regulations, ABS-CBN was not authorized to encrypt or lock non-paying public its TVPlus channels using its free-to-air frequency under its franchise,” Marcoleta said.

Some programs continued to air after the NTC’s cease and desist order through ABS-CBN News cable Channel, its social media platforms, digital terrestrial box, and via the mobile app.

However, the network received an “alias” order from NTC last June 30, directing ABS-CBN to cease and desist from operating digital TV transmission in Metro Manila using channel 43. 

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said the decision was reminiscent of the dark pages in the history of the Philippine press in 1972. 

“Democracy thrives when there is free press and when journalists can exercise complete freedom to do their mandate of reporting facts without fear. But with what happened to ABS-CBN, it has shown that the “sword of Damocles” can be unleashed any time,” Drilon said.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in a statement said that the chamber has lost all claim to represent the people and our interests.

“Today, not only have more than 11,000 people have been stripped of their jobs, millions of Filipinos have been deprived of their right to know and their right to choose how to access the information they need to decide on their futures as well as the entertainment that allows them a respite from the hardships of life,” NUJP said.

The Freedom for Media, Freedom for all (FMFA) believes that the closure of the said TV network will affect the delivery of news, information, and entertainment as some audience are having difficult access to these in time of the COVID-19 pandemic. (From Stanley Buenafe Gajete) 

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