Makabayan solons file bill seeking ABS-CBN franchise renewal

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 06 2022 06:20 PM | Updated as of Jul 07 2022 09:32 AM

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MANILA (UPDATE)— Lawmakers from the progressive Makabayan bloc on Tuesday filed a bill seeking to grant ABS-CBN Corp. a fresh 25-year broadcast franchise.

House Bill No. 1218 was introduced by Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) party-list Rep. France Castro, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas, and Kabataan Rep. Raoul Manuel.

The solons explained in their bill that the shutdown of ABS-CBN Corp.'s broadcast operations was because "the then-highest political power in the land 'used the presidential powers' to tell Congress to revoke it." 

"ABS-CBN Broadcasting Network was pushed off air, forced to sign off, with a vote of 70-11 and a personal feud the circumstances of which are entirely admitted by the president himself,” the measure’s explanatory note said.

In a speech after the oath-taking of his son, Davao City Mayor Sebastian "Baste" Duterte, last June 27, then President Rodrigo Duterte said he really targeted ABS-CBN and "used the presidential power to tell Congress" about his allegation against the network.

ABS-CBN was forced to shut its broadcast operations in May 2020 on orders of the National Telecommunications Commission upon the expiry of its previous franchise. The regulator initially told lawmakers it could issue the media company a provisional authority as its franchise renewal was already being tackled at the House of Representatives at that time.

Two months later, or on July 10, 2020, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises denied ABS-CBN's new franchise application despite relevant government agencies clearing the network of alleged irregularities and amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the new bill, the Makabayan lawmakers noted that the non-renewal of ABS-CBN Corp.'s franchise had repercussions on the freedom of the press and democracy, as well as on the people's livelihood as the company was forced to lay off thousands of its employees, talents, and non-regular workers in August 2020.

“The non-renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise could be construed as an act against the Constitutionally-protected freedoms, especially of the right to a free and independent press," the solons said in their proposed measure.

Brosas said she was "still hoping" the bill would hurdle the 19th Congress as more than 40 percent of lawmakers were newcomers.

"It is time para hamunin or to challenge this administrasyon kung paano nila titingnan, even sa Congress, kung paano titingnan ang issue ng press freedom," she told ANC on Thursday.

(It is time to challenge this administration, even Congress, on how it will address the issue of press freedom.)

They also cited Section 4 of the Bill of Rights in the 1987 Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of speech, expression, and of the press, as well as the right to peaceful assembly and petition.

The urgent passage of the bill, they said, can be considered a challenge for Congress "to stand for freedom and democracy." 

“We live in a time that democracy is walking on knife’s edge; authoritarianism once again is on the rise. Disinformation, fake news, and historical amnesia reign. In times like these, democratic institutions such as the press are embattled. If the environment is such that media outfits are shuttered rather than allowed to be robust and independent, where truth is muted and turned off rather than broadcast, then our democratic spaces are shrinking indeed,” they said.

The company had been the subject of the ire of Duterte, who in 2019 said he would see to it that ABS-CBN would be out.

During the 2022 election season, then presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the fate of ABS-CBN's franchise renewal will be up to Congress.

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