MANILA--What ABS-CBN Corp. went through to have its franchise renewed only to be rejected in the end is something sociologist and Inquirer columnist Randy David has never seen before.
Members of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises on Friday voted to deny a new broadcast franchise for ABS-CBN, a move deemed by many as part of a worsening crackdown on press freedom under the current administration.
David said the network's shutdown in May and the subsequent "insults and accusations" it received from congressmen who looked into its application was a collective action far worse than when the Lopezes saw their company taken over during the Marcos regime.
"Mas masahol pa doon (martial law seizure) ang nangyari. Sapagkat alam mo na noong 1972, the military just took over the [TV/radio] station," David said in an interview with ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
"Pero eto, idinaan pa sa batas kuno. Ginamit pa ang mga proseso ng batas upang bigyan nila ng justification ang isang conclusion na matagal na nilang ginawa."
David said the network's franchise denial is another "chilling effect" on the country's press freedom, which has deteriorated since Duterte became the President.
"Sinong mangangahas na media corporation o media network na mareport 'yung news objectively ngayon ano? Hindi naiintindihan ng ating mga mambabatas ano, yung unique relationship ng media and politics. Talagang hindi magkasundo 'yan sa isang demokrasya," he said.
"Structurally, ang tungkulin ng media ay pansinin, obserbahan at punahin ang anumang pagkukulang ng gobyerno. There's always been an adversarial relationship between media and government," he added.
The House of Representatives is dominated by the allies of President Rodrigo Duterte. His son, Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte, had filed a resolution with 2 other administration allies seeking an investigation into alleged violations by ABS-CBN of its franchise.
According to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Congress has the "sole prerogative" on the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN.
"The Palace has maintained a neutral stance on the issue as it respects the separation of powers between the two co-equal branches government," Roque said in a statement on Friday.
"Much as we want to work with the aforesaid media network, we have to abide by the resolution of the House committee."
Voting 70-11, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises effectively shut down a major part of the country’s largest media network. David said the overwhelming victory was "unbelievable."
"Ano ibig sabihin nu'n? May taga-kumpas at sumusunod ang karamihan dito? At sino sinusunod nila dito? Sino pa kung hindi 'yung nagmamaang-maangan na kunwari walang kagagawan? Na sa simula't simula na sinabi na, 'Hangga't ako ang Pangulo, hindi kayo mabibigyan ng renewal ng franchise'," David said.
Meantime, ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak thanked the network's supporters after what has been dubbed as the country's "longest franchise hearing in history."
Katigbak said management was "deeply hurt" by the lawmakers' decision, but the company's supporters gave them strength, as they remain hopeful that “the story of the Filipino will shine again.”