And now, the end has come.
On July 10 2020, after a series of thorough hearings, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Legislative Franchises denied the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise with an overwhelming 70 affirmative votes in favor of the “Resolution Denying the Franchise Application of ABS-CBN Corporation to Construct, Install, Establish, Operate, and Maintain Radio and Broadcasting Stations in the Philippines,” as against 11 who voted in the negative.
The 1987 Constitution vests upon Congress the sole power to review and approve franchises of public utilities. Consequently, ABS-CBN’s application for a franchise to operate solely depended on Congress’ assessment as to whether it is deserving of the privilege to use the airwaves of the State. True to its mandate, Congress endeavored to objectively evaluate ABS-CBN’s qualifications as an applicant for a franchise through the hearings conducted.
The decision of the House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Franchises to deny the franchise application of ABS-CBN was arrived at after a thorough, exhaustive, and painstaking consideration of all arguments.
Throughout the 13 hearings, the public was witness to the grueling interpellations made by members of the joint committee on ABS-CBN’s executives and lawyers as well as on the resource persons from various government agencies like the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Immigration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, among others.
During each of these hearings, Congress heard testimonies, received evidence, and meticulously deliberated on the following issues raised against ABS-CBN: (a) foreign citizenship of its Chairman Emeritus, Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III; (b) issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) to foreigners which allowed foreign ownership in ABS-CBN; (c) unlawful return of its assets to the Lopez family after martial law; (d) violation of its previous franchise by operating a pay-per-view channel in its ABS-CBN TV Plus (the KBO Channel) without prior approval or permit from the National Telecommunications Commission; (e) its unauthorized use of AMCARA’s legislative franchise; (f) labor law violations; (g) tax avoidance schemes; and (f) biased reporting, inappropriate program content, and political meddling.
ABS-CBN Corporation was given full and reasonable opportunity to refute all of these.
ABS-CBN’s violations were previously brought to the attention of the public by the OSG. It must be recalled that on February 10, 2020, the OSG filed a petition for quo warranto at the Supreme Court to forfeit the legislative franchises of ABS-CBN Corporation and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc. The quo warranto petition showed that ABS-CBN has been broadcasting for a fee, which is beyond the scope of its legislative franchise. ABS-CBN also abused the privilege granted by the State when it launched and operated the KBO Channel, a pay-per-view channel in ABS-CBN TV Plus, without prior approval or permit from the government. Further, ABS-CBN issued PDRs to foreigners, in gross violation of the foreign ownership restriction on mass media under Section 11, Article XVI of the Constitution.
The Committee on Legislative Franchises affirmed the allegations found in the OSG’s quo warranto petition. Its Committee Resolution confirmed that ABS-CBN violated its franchise when it launched and operated its KBO channel without prior approval or permit from the NTC. The Resolution also found that ABS-CBN allows foreign control over their company through its issuance of PDRs. Section 11, Article XVI of the 1987 Constitution limits ownership and management of mass media solely to Filipino citizens.
It is worth remembering that when faced with the prospect of having its franchise annulled through a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court, ABS-CBN insisted on the exclusive prerogative of Congress to withdraw a franchise. ABS-CBN maintained that the Supreme Court should deny the quo warranto petition so as not to pre-empt Congress’ exercise of such power. ABS-CBN then categorized the issue of the validity of a legislative franchise as a political question that is beyond the purview of judicial review. Yesterday, the Committee on Legislative Franchises answered this political question in a resounding and categorical fashion: ABS-CBN is not entitled to a renewed legislative franchise. Through the Committee, the Congress has spoken, and the nation is all-ears.
Indeed, Congress, through the joint committees, not only exercised its constitutional mandate, but also fulfilled Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano’s promise to the Filipino people that “the hearings [would] be fair, impartial, comprehensive and thorough,” and that “[a]ll voices [would] be heard and all issues for and against [would] be discussed.”
Congress has done its job well. We salute Speaker Cayetano, Deputy Speaker Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla, Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta, Committee on Legislative Franchises Chair Rep. Franz Alvarez, Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado, Rep. Mike Defensor, Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, and all those who voted in favour of the Committee Resolution for their leadership and integrity.
The granting of a legislative franchise is a privilege, not a right. Congress has ascertained that ABS-CBN is unworthy of a legislative franchise, and its decision must be accorded respect. The denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise cannot be characterized as a restraint on freedom of expression or of the press because the primordial effect of such denial is the upholding of the constitutional provision and laws governing media companies like ABS-CBN. Congress has done its duty under the Constitution, and by its action, the rule of law has been upheld.
Justice has been served.