MANILA — The House legislative franchises committee on Wednesday rejected ABS-CBN Corp's application for a new franchise, permanently shutting down a major part of the country’s largest media network and drawing accusations that authorities are cracking down on press freedom.
Out of 85 panel members and ex-officio members present, only 11 congressmen voted against a drafting group's recommendation to deny a fresh 25-year license for the broadcaster.
Seventy congressmen voted against granting the franchise, 11 in favor, 2 inhibited and one abstained.
Here's a list of the 11 lawmakers who voted for ABS-CBN to return on air.
- Bienvenido Abante Jr, Manila 6th District
- Carlos Isagani Zarate, Bayan Muna party-list
- Christopher De Venecia, Pangasinan 4th District
- Edward Vera Perez Maceda, Manila 4th District
- Gabriel Bordado Jr, Camarines Sur 3rd District
- Jose "Ping-Ping" Tejada, North Cotabato 3rd District
- Lianda Bolilia, Batangas 4th District
- Mujiv Hataman, Basilan
- Sol Aragones, Laguna 3rd District
- Stella Luz Quimbo, Marikina 2nd District
- Vilma Santos-Recto, Batangas 6th District
The vote puts in jeopardy the jobs of more than 11,000 workers under the ABS-CBN group of companies, particularly its broadcast business whose programs enjoyed a massive reach of more than 80 million Filipinos here and abroad.
Bills pushing for a new ABS-CBN franchise had been stuck at the House franchise committee since 2014, and didn't move until public pressure over the NTC shutdown order prompted congressmen to hear the application in earnest.
ABS-CBN's push for a new franchise was further complicated by relentless attacks from President Rodrigo Duterte, who, in December 2019, declared that he would "see to it that you're out."
Duterte later appeared to have softened his position on ABS-CBN's franchise bid, following an apology from the network's president and CEO last February over a negative campaign ad aired against the then Davao City mayor in the 2016 presidential elections.
The president accepted the apology and Malacañang later said that he would be "neutral" on the franchise application.
Congress' refusal to grant the franchise "is a grievous assault on press freedom in the country," said Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson.
"Not since the dictator Ferdinand Marcos shut down ABS-CBN and other media outlets in 1972 has a single government act caused so much damage to media freedom," he said in a statement.
"Today’s vote to deny the franchise renewal is an astounding display of obsequious behavior by Congressional representatives, kowtowing to Duterte by agreeing to seriously limit media freedom in the Philippines," he added.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
ABS-CBN Corp. can again seek a franchise during President Rodrigo Duterte's administration. However, the National Telecommunications Commission can assign ABS-CBN's frequency to another entity, said Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate.
"'Pag nag-apply siya ulit ng prangkisa, either within this 18th Congress or thereafter, magsisimula siya sa una dahil kumbaga, meron kang prangkisa, wala ka naman magamit na frequency. Hahanapan ka pa ng available frequency," he told ANC.
(If it re-applies for a franchise either within this 18th Congress or thereafter, it will start from scratch because you could have a license, yet no frequency you can use. Regulators will have to find an available frequency for you.)
"Sa Metro Manila, sagad na ang frequency d'yan. That's why I will not be surprised na talagang may mga interesado doon sa frequency ng ABS-CBN because of its strategic importance sa economy, business, even sa pulitika," he added.
(The frequency here in Metro Manila is already full. That's why I will not be surprised if there are parties interested in the ABS-CBN frequency because of its strategic importance on economy, business, even politics.)
Watch the proceedings here:
— With reports from Christian Esguerra, Zandro Ochona and Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News