A year after the forced shutdown of ABS-CBN, calls are being made to take to task in the 2022 elections the 70 members of the House of Representatives who voted to deny the country’s biggest broadcast network a new franchise.
In an online forum held by the ABS-CBN Chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) last Friday, labor leader Leody de Guzman stressed that the fight for justice is not over for ABS-CBN’s employees who lost their jobs because of the decision of these lawmakers to take the network off the air in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and a weakening economy.
“Sa halip na ang gobyerno ay humakbang para ampatin ang epekto ng pandemya sa unemployment, naging bahagi pa siya sa pagpaparami ng nga walang trabaho sa bansa,” the chairman of the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino said. “Alam ko hindi dito matatapos. Tingin ko yung next year, eleksyon, tingin ko may paniningil ang mga manggagawa sa gobyernong ito.”
This was supported by Christian Lloyd Magsoy, spokesperson of Defend Jobs Philippines, who said, “Wag natin kalimutan yung 70 na congressman na pumirma dun sa hindi pagbibigay ng prangkisa sa ABS-CBN. Isang taon mula ngayon, maari tayong maningil sa kanila ginawa sa mga kababayan natin, mga kapwa natin manggagawa.”
The 70 who voted "Yes" to the resolution to reject the franchise: Raneo Abu, Cyrille Abueg-Zaldivar, Gil Acosta, Antonio Albano, Samantha Louise Alfonso, Juan Miguel Macapagal Arroyo, Cristal Bagatsing, Julienne Baronda, Elpidio Barzaga Jr., Claudine Bautista;
Juan Pablo Bondoc, Antonio Calixto, Prescious Castelo, Joaquin Chipeco Jr., Ma. Theresa Collantes, Anthony Peter Crisologo, Francisco Datol, Mike Defensor, Paulo Duterte, Faustino Michael Dy;
Faustino V. Dy, Ian Paul Dy, Conrado Estrella III, Ria Christina Fariñas, Dan Fernandez, Bayani Fernando, Luis Ferrer IV, Pablo John Garcia, Janette Garin, Sharon Garin;
Weslie Gatchalian, Sandro Gonzales, Eduardo Gullas,Bernadette Herrera-Dy, Dulce Ann Hofer, Eleandro Jesus Madrona, Dale Malapitan, Esmael Mangudadatu, Rodante Marcoleta, Eric Martinez;
Francisco Matugas, Raymond Mendoza, Roger Mercado,John Marvin Nieto, Jose Fidel Nograles, Jericho Nograles, Henry Oaminal,Joseph Stephen Paduano,Wilter Palma II,Enrico Pineda;
Jesus Crispin Remulla, Strike Revilla, Yedda Romualdez, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, Xavier Jesus Romualdo, Deogracias Savellano, Frederick Siao, Jose Singson Jr. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado, Alyssa Sheena Tan;
Sharee Ann Tan, Arnolfo Teves Jr., Abraham Tolentino, Allan Ty, Christian Unabia, Rolando Valeriano, Luis Villafuerte Jr., Camille Villar, Eric Yap, and Divina Grace Yu.
Only 11 members of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises supported ABS-CBN’s application to renew its license for another 25 years. In a controversial move, the committee did not bring the matter to the plenary for a vote but threw out the application outright.
One of the so-called “Brave 11”, Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate, recalled that he already had a feeling that the committee would reject ABS-CBN’s application because of how the hearings progressed, but thought more of his colleagues supported the network.
“I was still surprised na pagdating sa bilangan ay 11 na lang kaming naiwan dahil yung mga initial days leading towards the final count and the summation, ako naniniwala baka umabot kami ng bente or mahigit pa,” he said.
The 11 were Sol Aragones, Christopher De Venecia, Carlos Zarate, Gabriel Bordado, Vilma Santos, Lianda Bolilia, Jose Tejada, Bienvenido Abante, Stella Quimbo, Mujiv Hataman, and Edward Maceda.
Zarate believes that Malacañang played a big role in how the voting was done and how it turned out, saying he had hoped the franchise bill would be tackled at the plenary and not just at the committee level.
“All these institutions, humina .Na-weaponize ang mga proccesses natin so yun ang nangyari sa komite pero kami talagang nagsumikap na baka pag naidala ito sa plenaryo, eh marinig ang boses ng kasama namin,” he said. “Tumindig kami para sa interes ng mamamayan at hindi sa makikitid na interes... I think nagkaroon na ng desisyon ang mayorya dahil ito ay may kumpas talaga ng Malacanang sa aking paniniwala.”
Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) lawyer Theodore Te shared Zarate’s observations, noting that no other franchise application had undergone the same detailed scrutiny that was done with that of ABS-CBN. In any franchise application, Te said the public’s interest should be the main consideration.
“Kakaiba, nakakapagtaka kung bakit ganun na lang kalalim yung pag usisa. In effect, parang naging korte yung komite,” he said.
Te pointed out that the Supreme Court’s inaction on ABS-CBN’s request for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) was a missed opportunity to rule on the legalities in the granting of franchises. ABS-CBN filed for a TRO on May 7 last year to stop the implementation of the cease and desist order issued by the National Telecommunications Commission as the network’s existing franchise had expired.
“Dahil nga ang papel ng hukuman, pag nagbabanggan na ang dalawang entity, ang papel ng korte ay gumitna para [sabihin] sandali ikaw ay lumalampas, ikaw ay tama, ikaw ay mali,” the former Supreme Court spokesperson said, refusing to speculate on why the TRO was not granted.
Others in the forum also discussed what Ateneo de Manila University professor and Inquirer columnist John Nery described as the “freezing effect” of ABS-CBN’s shutdown on journalists and press freedom, noting that local media have become tame and timid to avoid the same fate.
“Talagang tinarget ang ABS-CBN dito, so may implications ito sa press freedom. Dapat natin maintindihan na we are not talking of press freedom as a collapse, we are talking about it as an erosion," he said.
He also talked about a “lost audience of about 6 million” based on the Kantar Media Report, a week after the ABS-CBN shutdown. “Hindi lang [dahil] sa loyalty pero [dahil] wala na silang makuha. Di na nila makuha yung DZMM or yung ABS Channel 2. So, how do they access the information if walang ABS? [If] walang papalit?’
Magsoy noted that the shutdown of ABS-CBN has had a ripple effect on its related businesses such as advertising, the entertainment industry, and even the restaurants located around the network’s vicinity that were forced to close after losing their main customers.
While the network has adapted to changes in its operations as it struggles to survive without a franchise, its retrenched employees have resorted to different ways of earning a livelihood as well, according to Jon Villanueva, president of ABS-CBN Rank & File Employees.
“Marami pa po sa kanila di pa nakakahanap ng bagong trabaho. Yung iba po ang laki ng pagbabago sa buhay nila. Para maka-survive, yung iba pumasok sa food deliveries, yung iba naman po nagtayo ng karinderya, iba naging panadero. Ibang-iba talaga sa trabaho nila sa ABS-CBN,“ he said.
Villanueva said the loss of medical benefits, especially during this pandemic, has added stress and made their situation worse but expressed gratitude to the management of ABS-CBN for extending this privilege even to retrenched employees.
Moving forward, Zarate suggested that removing the duty of granting franchises from Congress could help prevent a repeat of the sad fate of ABS-CBN, the only broadcasting network in the country that has been taken off the air twice. The Lopez-owned network was also shut down when martial law was declared in 1972.
However, Zarate noted that such a move would require an amendment in the 1987 Constitution. He also warned that such an amendment was really no guarantee of a fair system since factors that are political in nature also play a role in the granting of franchises as experience has shown.
“Kahit ano pa man na kaayusan yan, isang komisyon, o idadaan mo sa kongreso, kapag meron sitwasyon na kagaya natin ngayon, na i-weaponize yung mga institutions na ito ng napakalakas na executive [branch] ay talagang wala ding mangyayari dahil nandun din yung chilling effect,” he stressed. “Kailangan maghugot ng aral. Bakit parang bumabalik ang kasaysayan? Bumabalik man ang kasaysayan, may itunuro din sa atin ang kasaysayan paano it mabago.”
*The author is a student of the Ateneo de Manila University writing for VERA Files as part of his internship.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)