MANILA--On the eve of a crucial vote on ABS-CBN's franchise application, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Thursday criticized political partisanship intended to protect business interests by broadcast media owners.
"I submit that this is not press freedom. It is the theft of government from the people while hiding under the pretense of press freedom," he told a joint hearing of the House legislative franchises committee and the House good government and public accountability committee.
Critics of ABS-CBN, including Cayetano, had alleged that the Lopez family used the broadcast network to promote certain candidates while attacking others in previous elections.
"Big business, conjoined with commercial media, should not be allowed to engage in partisan politics by wielding its power to protect its interest, meddle and interfere in elections, and surreptitiously support certain candidates in the guise of reporting the news," he said.
ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak earlier denied that the network favored particular candidates.
Cayetano warned against private businesses that "protect their interest and support their handpicked candidates while targeting those who oppose them."
As the franchise committee drew closer to a vote, he said congressmen should decide if the network was used by its owners to protect their own business interests.
"O totoo bang may mga nagagalit lang dahil tinamaan sa news nila at objective po sila?" he said.
Last Monday, some congressmen spent much of the 10-hour hearing raising their personal issues against ABS-CBN's allegedly unfavorable news reports about them.
Cayetano previously criticized ABS-CBN's news coverage, particularly of Rodrigo Duterte presidential campaign in 2016, but decided not to personally raise it with network executives during the hearing last Monday.
ABS-CBN earlier angered Duterte for airing a negative ad funded by former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV against him in 2016, and failing to air some of Duterte's local ads that year.
Monday's hearing showed that other political ads, including those of Vice President Leni Robredo, Mar Roxas, and Trillanes, were also not aired owing to a congested queuing system common in broadcast networks during the election season.
“Assuming that we are on air during the next campaign period, we have already committed to put together an online system for the purchase of political ads so that there is full transparency as to the 'first come, first served' policy, as well as full transparency on shows that are already filled up,” Katigbak told the committee.
In 2016, the Commission on Elections clarified that negative political ads were allowed by law.
"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 strengthening of our democracy," Cayetano told congressmen.
'VOTE VS OLIGARCHY'
In his manifestation on Thursday, Anakalusugan Party-list representative Michael Defensor said denying ABS-CBN a new franchise is not suppression of press freedom but a vote "to stop the perpetuation of an oligarchy."
Oligarchs, for years, have "suppressed" the Filipino people by using their power to control the State just like how ABS-CBN, owned by the Lopezes, use mass media, he said.
"They say that the vote for the continuance of a franchise or granting of a franchise to ABS-CBN is a suppression of press freedom but I say, Mr. Chairman, that a yes vote to stop the franchise is a vote to stop the perpetuation of an oligarchy that continues to suppress our people," Defensor said.
President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed many times his disdain towards oligarchs, and Defensor said these "small groups" have to be demolished.
He said politicians are replaced after a certain number of years in office, but big companies that control the economy remain.
"When the President mentions that we should dismantle the oligarchy in the Philippines, wasakin natin ang oligarkiya sa Pilipinas, ang kanyang tinutukoy ang maliit na grupo na nagkokontrol sa ating bansa," he said.
In his closing remarks, Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez urged the public to respect the congressional committee's decision on ABS-CBN's application for a new franchise.
The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) shut down the network last May 5 because of an expired franchise despite an application in Congress pending since 2014.