MANILA (UPDATE) - Freedom of speech is "not absolute," a lawmaker said Thursday as he clarified President Rodrigo Duterte "never directly interfered" with Congress on the subject of the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise.
This, after the Office of the Solicitor General sought to nullify the franchise of ABS-CBN Corp and its subsidiary ABS-CBN Convergence while the House of Representatives has yet to hear 11 bills seeking to renew the company's license to operate.
"I never said that President Duterte DIRECTLY pressured us congressmen, and I clarified that by saying that: 'In fairness to the President, he NEVER called any of us congressmen, and NEVER issued any marching orders to tell us what to do,'" Isabela 1st District Rep. Antonio Albano, vice-chair of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, said in a statement.
"The President has never interfered and does not intend to interfere in the business of congress. He values separation of powers and has much respect for us to do so.”
Duterte on Wednesday night highlighted the importance of broadcast media to the country but said broadcasting rights are a “privilege."
Albano said he agreed with the President that media has the "obligation to serve the public by making sure that they don't misuse their privilege in spreading false or fake news."
"And if media has violated any laws, contracts, or broke any of the franchise parameters, then the government, including and most especially Congress, has the right to take away their franchise to protect the people from misinformation and abuse," he said.
House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr., meantime, said lawmakers are "free to vote according to his own conscience."
“When it comes to ABS-CBN we just do not want na ang Kongreso mapagkamalan na we're trying to suppress press freedom. Sa akin po let us give ABS-CBN due course. Sa akin po pwede pag-usapan 'yan sa plenaryo, pag-debatehan po maigi," he told reporters.
(When it comes to ABS-CBN, we do not want Congress to seem like we're trying to suppress press freedom. Let us give ABS-CBN due course. Let's discuss at the plenary and debate over it.)
"After an exhaustive debate then let every congressman and his conscience vote but do not keep it in the committee.”
Albano earlier said ABS-CBN may continue to operate beyond the expiration of its franchise in March and that the House hearing on measures seeking to renew its franchise has been "calendared."
"We are not delaying. We have been doing our work. It's just you don't see it. Unfair to say committee on franchise have been sitting on it. It doesn't mean because you field you get priority we have steady pace," he told reporters Wednesday. --With a report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News