Brave 11: Solons who voted for ABS-CBN's franchise renewal

Davinci Maru, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 09 2021 04:30 PM

This article is part of a series commemorating the House of Representatives' 70-11 vote on July 10, 2020 rejecting ABS-CBN's franchise renewal. 

MANILA—In a House of Representatives dominated by President Duterte's allies, these lawmakers were dubbed the "Brave 11" — courageous for not yielding to pressure from an administration that had vowed to force ABS-CBN off the air.

With thousands of jobs at stake at the broadcast network, the lawmakers dissented on a House resolution that rejected the media giant's application for a fresh broadcast license— a move also seen by critics as an assault on press freedom.

Lauded for standing their ground, these lawmakers saw that the country's then-top broadcaster didn't violate provisions in its expired franchise after marathon hearings, which spanned nearly 100 hours, one of the longest in Congress' history.

The lawmakers who voted for ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal were:

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Batangas 6th district Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto co-authored one of the bills seeking ABS-CBN's franchise renewal. ABS-CBN News/File

Batangas 6th District Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto was surprised by the result of a House panel vote on July 10 that dashed hopes of resuming ABS-CBN's free TV and radio services.

She said she had expected a "comfortable" number during the July 10 vote because ABS-CBN answered the various allegations it was accused of. But some authors of bills in favor of ABS-CBN's franchise backed down.

"Biglang, bakit kami kumonti ng ganito na lang? Very significant naman na bigla na lang kami naging 11," she said.

(Why did the numbers all of a sudden fall that low for us? Eleven is very significant a drop.) 

In January, she filed another bill seeking to renew ABS-CBN's broadcast franchise.

"Despite the growing popularity of social media, television still remains as a preferred mass medium in our province and other far-flung areas," Santos-Recto said in the explanatory note of her House Bill No. 8298.

"ABS-CBN has remained steadfast in its commitment to reach out to as many Filipinos as possible by delivering their quality core program closer to our countrymen by taking advantage of emerging broadcast technologies," she added.

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Laguna 3rd District Rep. Sol Aragones during her guesting at Dos por Dos on March 6, 2020. Michael Bagtas, ABS-CBN News/File


Laguna 3rd District Rep. Sol Aragones couldn't hold back tears when her colleagues killed the network's fresh franchise bid.

"Malungkot po ang araw na ito (This is a sad day)," she said. 

Aragones was a reporter at the network before she joined politics.

“Thirteen years ako sa ABS-CBN at naghanap-buhay pero sabi ko nga, hindi na ito ang kuwento ko. Ito na ay kuwento na ng mga manggagawa ng ABS-CBN na umaasa sa kanilang trabaho sa ABS-CBN at sa mga manonood nito,” she said.

(I worked for ABS-CBN for 13 years. As I said, this is not my story anymore but those still working in ABS-CBN and its viewers.)

At one of the House hearings, Aragones said ABS-CBN "went above and beyond its obligations" as a broadcast network.

"ABS-CBN was not only interested in reporting the news, but it went above and beyond the obligations of a broadcast network by helping those in need," she said. "No matter how few they may be, no matter how far they may be. Truly, simply, ABS-CBN stood for then as it stands for now in the service of the Filipino."

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Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate talks with other lawmakers during the congressional hearing on ABS-CBN 's franchise renewal at the House of Representatives in Quezon City on June 8, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File


Before the crucial House vote, the Committee on Legislative Franchises appointed a 3-member group to draft recommendations on whether the shuttered broadcast network should be granted a new operating franchise.

The technical working group (TWG), composed of Rep. Xavier Jesus Romualdo of Camiguin, Rep. Pablo John Garcia of Cebu, and Rep. Stella Quimbo of Marikina City, recommended the denial of ABS-CBN's franchise application.

Quimbo, who represented the minority in the 3-member drafting committee, dissented on the resolution.

Last July 10, 70 lawmakers adopted the report in a historic vote, permanently shutting down a major part of ABS-CBN.

For Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, the TWG was cherry-picking testimonies to fit a narrative that ABS-CBN did not deserve a franchise despite being cleared by regulatory agencies during the hearings.

"Kung talagang busisiin mo 'yong report, hindi lang full of inconsistencies tapos alanganin. Parang nag-cherry-pick lang ng gustong testimonies," he said. 

(If you look closely at the report, it's not only full of inconsistencies, it looks like they just cherry-picked from the testimonies.)

"In fact, ang mga nakalagay doon ay 'yong mga testimonya na hindi galing sa resource persons natin from regulatory agencies."

(In fact, the testimonies cited there did not come from resource persons from regulatory agencies.)

ABS-CBN's shutdown, Zarate said, also put into question the stability of the country's regulatory regime.

"If a big network like ABS-CBN na sinabi ng regulatory agencies na walang nagawang pagkakamali ay naipasara, ang tanong ngayon, how stable our regulatory regime is," he said.

(If they shut down a big network like ABS-CBN, which regulatory agencies already said has no violations, the question now is, how stable is our regulatory regime?)

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ABS-CBN employees react as the the House Committee on Legislative Franchises vote to deny the network’s franchise application on July 10, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File


In the lower chamber of Congress, more than a dozen lawmakers spoke up in favor of granting ABS-CBN a new 25-year franchise.

Among them were lawmakers Rodrigo Abellanosa, Rosemarie Arenas, Lito Atienza, Arlene Brosas, France Castro, Eufemia Cullamat, Sarah Jane Elago, Lawrence Fortun, Ferdinand Gaite, Alfredo Garbin Jr., Mark Go, Edcel Lagman, Rufus Rodriguez, Josephine Sato, Joy Myra Tambunting and Micaela Violago.

Atienza assailed the panel's decision rejecting the network's new license as a "mistrial."

"This is a mistrial where the accused was proven innocent by evidence, documents and testimonies of the authorities," he said.

Lagman, who authored one of the bills for ABS-CBN's franchise, said the decision that killed the network's franchise bid was a "forgone conclusion." He described the role of the TWG in the decision as "part of the charade."

After lengthy hearings, the media conglomerate "rightly" deserves a new broadcast franchise, he said. 

"My scorecard shows an 8-0 sweep of the major issues in favor of ABS-CBN Corporation’s franchise renewal," he said.