MANILA (UPDATE) - Several lawmakers who expressed support and sponsored bills for a new broadcast franchise for ABS-CBN Corp were not part of the House committee on legislative franchises, the panel that dealt the death blow on the country's largest network in a historic vote on Friday.
These include some of the staunchest defenders of the network who spoke out through 12 joint hearings of the committees on legislative franchises and good government and accountability.
The process concluded in a 70-11 vote that killed hopes for a new license for the network, shuttering its main broadcast business and fulfilling a promise President Rodrigo Duterte had many times declared in public speeches.
"I am not a member of the Committee on Legislative Franchises. So, while I am a co-author of a bill for the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, I could not vote," said Agusan Del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun in a tweet Friday night.
"I hope that answers questions why I am not of the eleven who voted no to the resolution denying the franchise renewal," he said.
Only regular and ex-officio members of the committee on legislative franchises had the power to vote at Friday's lopsided battle, which 85 members attended at the House plenary and online. Two inhibited, while one abstained.
Antique Rep. Loren Legarda, who authored one of the franchise measures and a former ABS-CBN news anchor, posted on her Facebook page a letter saying she was "constrained from participating in the deliberation and the voting" on Friday.
In a statement Saturday, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, among authors of one of the several slain ABS-CBN franchise bills, also clarified that he had no voting rights when the House franchise panel made the decision on Friday.
"I want to make it clear that I am not a member of the committee on legislative franchises, for which reason I was not entitled to vote on the issue whether or not to grant ABS-CBN a renewed franchise," he said.
"However, as a Member of the House of Representatives, I have the right to voice out my position during the joint committee hearings," he said.
He maintained that ABS-CBN is "entitled to a fresh franchise" as it has no proven violations of the Constitution, any law and its previous franchise.
DECISION A FOREGONE CONCLUSION
Lagman called Friday's vote a partisan victory, saying the decision of the administration-dominated panel was a "foregone conclusion."
"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," Lagman said in a statement Friday.
In his fresh statement, Lagman reiterated his observation on the "instant recommendations" of the technical working group assembled after the panel hearings wrapped up. He had noted how it had moved with suspicious "alacrity," drawing up the recommendation to deny ABS-CBN's franchise bid less than 24 hours since it came to be.
"I reiterate my observation that the instant recommendation of the so-called Technical Working Group (TWG) was a brief or memorandum on behalf of those opposing the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise, and it was prepared to decimate the bid of ABS-CBN for franchise renewal," he said.
"I shall in due time make a point-by-point rebuttal of the off-tangent assessments made by the TWG on the major issues raised against ABS-CBN," he added.
Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago, also among 16 sponsors of ABS-CBN franchise bills, said lawmakers should be representatives of the people.
"Our obligation as a duly-elected youth partylist representation is to give voice to the marginalized and underrepresented, and not to be a mere mouthpiece of the ruling regime," she said.
In a joint statement ahead of Friday's vote, sponsors of bills and resolutions for ABS-CBN's franchise issued a statement reaffirming the network's compliance with the law and its previous franchise.
They also appealed to the House leadership to grant the network a new broadcast license.
But in the end, the vote of 70 lawmakers sealed the fate of the network and its over 11,000 workers who are now facing even more uncertainty while already facing a pandemic.