MANILA - The House panel's decision to deny ABS-CBN's fresh broadcast license bid was a partisan victory and an abuse of superiority by the administration-dominated chamber, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said Friday.
Lagman, who authored one of the bills giving ABS-CBN a new franchise, said the decision that killed the network's franchise bid on Friday was a "forgone conclusion," describing the role of a technical working group in the decision as "part of the charade."
Members of the House franchise committee, after 12 lengthy joint hearings with the committee on good government, on Friday voted 70-11 to deny ABS-CBN's fresh franchise application, shuttering the network's broadcast business.
"The protracted hearings conducted by the Committees on Legislative Franchises and Good Government followed a foregone conclusion, and despite ABS-CBN surviving the grueling legislative inquisition, it was slain at the end of the show with premeditation and abuse of superiority in numbers as aggravating circumstances," said Lagman.
"The plight of the embattled network is mercifully over except for the herd voting where the dictates of partisanship would prevail over the demands of merit.
He noted the TWG's speedy release of the eventually adopted recommendation to deny the franchise application, saying the "inordinate alacrity is suspect" as the document came out less than 24 hours after hearings wrapped up.
Lagman cited how the hearings had lasted over 100 hours in all, and how the TWG was supposed to have pored through "voluminous documents and records."
He also called out House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano for remarks that countered his own call for a "conscience vote" on the franchise bid.
"The pretense of the Speaker for a “conscience vote” was unmasked by his own closing statement at the end of the hearings which was a virtual final summation for the “antis” rooting for the denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal," Lagman said.
Cayetano, in a speech on Thursday when the House panels heard summations of those for and against the ABS-CBN franchise bill, had cited how corporations like ABS-CBN "should not be allowed to engage in partisan politics by wielding its power to protect their interest, meddle and interfere in elections, and surreptitiously support certain candidates in the guise of reporting the news.”
The House Speaker had lost his bid to opposition leader Vice President Leni Robredo in the 2016 elections even as he was President Rodrigo Duterte's running mate.
In 2013, Cayetano, then a re-electionist senator, joined a case filed by media organizations questioning a Commission on Elections regulation setting a limit on political advertisements that could be broadcast.
Countering the Speaker, Lagman cited the role of media under the Fair Elections Act.
"No less than the Fair Elections Act encourages television and radio networks to participate or “meddle” in politics to the extent of broadcasting negative advertisement, provided the rival candidates or parties are afforded equal time and the opportunity to reply," he said.
"In fact, it is during the election campaign that the freedom of the press is accorded primacy in strengthening the right of suffrage by giving the electorate maximum access to political and partisan propaganda," said Lagman.
In remarks Friday, Cayetano said people should read the House panel's findings against ABS-CBN "carefully" and "understand why the decision had to be so."