During the virtual Kapihan ng Samahang Plaridel, Reps. Lawrence Fortun of Agusan del Norte, Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro, Joy Tambunting of Parañaque City and Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna claimed that ABS-CBN clearly won in the hearings and debunked all allegations levelled against the media giant.
Oppositors of the franchise renewal application led by Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta raised eight issues against the network. These were dual citizenship of ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III, the issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts of ABS-CBN Holdings to foreign nationals, the reacquisition of the Lopez family after EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986, the 50-year constitutional limit on franchises, digital migration, alleged labor malpractices, various tax issues and biased reporting.
Meanwhile, members of the House of Representatives’ joint committee that is deliberating on ABS-CBN franchise bill will decide on Friday on the fate of the Lopez-led broadcast network.
House Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez on Thursday delivered a summation of the arguments aired during the deliberations conducted by the Committees on Legislative Franchises and on Good Government and Public Accountability.
At the summation hearing, Reps. Rufus Rodriguez or Cagayan de Oro and Rodante Marcoleta of Sagip party-list group delivered the final arguments for and against the grant of a 25-year franchise to the network.
Meanwhile, Assistant Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Representative France Castro urged fellow lawmakers to defend press freedom and renew the ABS-CBN franchise especially during this time of a pandemic.
The solon said the Duterte administration has taken away so much from the Filipino people. By shutting-down ABS-CBN, it took away the people’s right to information, press freedom and social services for the people.
“After a series of long hour hearings on whether or not the House of Representatives will renew the ABS-CBN franchise, we are nearing the time to vote. We urge our fellow lawmakers to vote for press freedom, for the people’s right to information and renew the ABS-CBN franchise,” Castro said.
“The renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN goes beyond personalities and politicians whose feelings may have gotten hurt by news reporting and the presentation of facts on what is happening in our country. This is about the jobs of 11,000 workers, the access to information for millions of Filipinos and our freedom of the press,” she said.
“A major attack against press freedom during a time where the people are demanding transparency and right information from the government and its policies. Shutting down one of the biggest media agencies in the country only serves the interest of the Duterte administration’s personal vendetta using the people’s funds and against public interest especially in this health crisis,” Castro added.
“We stand with ABS-CBN during this serious threat against press freedom. We continue to stand with ABS-CBN and their fight for the freedom of the press. We will continue to fight the Duterte administration’s tyrannical rule and their effort to suppress information and silence critics and those opposing its anti-people policies,” Castro said.
Supporters of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal also drew suppprt from militant labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno, which claimed that the hearings were marked by ‘tiresome delaying tactics.”
“At this junction, the number of hearings for the granting of franchise to broadcast media network ABS-CBN has totaled to twelve. The long road to the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise was doubly made difficult by self-serving political interests,” said Jerome Adonis, KMU Secretary General.
“Bawat araw na nawawala sa ere ang ABS-CBN ay isang araw na nailalagay sa bingit ang kabuhayan ang mga manggagawa nito. Bawat araw na wala ang balitang hatid ng network ay isang araw ng kawalan ng impormasyon ng masa na sandata niya sana sa pagharap sa pandemya.”
KMU has expressed grave concern over the use of alleged labor rights violations to clamp down and enforce closure on the network, leaving more or less 11,000 employees jobless.
“Hindi mo matutugunan at maaaksyunan ang labor issues ng manggagawa kung sarado na ang kompanyang pinagtatrabahuhan niya,” Adonis said.
In the past, hearings regarding broadcast franchises usually tackled matters regarding technical aspects of broadcast frequency and equipment.
These hearings did not dig deep into matters of broadcast content and ethics as there are existing bodies for media regulation and accountability in the country.
“‘Yung nangyari sa Kongreso, parang bull session. Naka-hot seat ang ABS-CBN at isa-isang naglabasan ng hinanakit ang mga kongresista. Wala naman na sa topic ng franchise renewal ang pinag-uusapan.”
“Ang paghalukay ng mga usapin sa content ay paraan ng pagdikta sa masmidya ng lalamanin ng balita at palabas. Nais nilang kontrolin ang content upang maging paborable sa kanilang adyenda. Sa esensya, pinapatay ang press freedom.” Adonis added.
“Munting payo sa Kongreso, gawin niyo nang matino ang trabaho niyo nang maibalita kayo. Bumoto kayo ng ‘yes’ para sa prangkisa ng ABS-CBN.”
But according to Romualdez, the committees did hold 12 hearings although the House was in recess at the time and some hearings were held at an average of nine hours per session.
In his speech before the joint committee, Romualdez said: “I pray that all House members who will vote on the issue will be guided primarily by sense of duty as elected Representatives of our people in Congress. In casting our votes, may the Constitution and existing laws of the land be our compasses.”
Romualdez also appealed “to our people to respect whatever judgment is rendered by the House of Representatives on this issue. The framers of the Constitution have deemed it wise to give Congress the power to grant franchises, knowing fully well that our elected legislators will uphold the interest of their constituents at all times.”
The bill’s proponents said they believe their colleagues appealed to their colleagues to vote based solely on substantial issues tackled during the hearings conducted by the House Committees on Legislative Franchises and Good Government and Public Accountability.
They added that even officials from different government agencies invited as resource persons in the hearings corroborated the claim of the network that did not violate any laws or regulations.
“The government agencies invited in the hearings all said that ABS-CBN had no violations... We can judge from marathon hearings that there was no substantial allegation proven against the network,” Fortun said.
“Of the eight issues heard, we see clearly that ABS-CBN did not violate any statute, law of regulation,” added Rodriguez.
Tambunting and Zarate echoed Fortun’s assertion, and hoped that their colleagues would heed the call of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano for a conscience vote.
“I hope we consider families of thousands of ABS-CBN employees who stand to lose their job. They admitted committing mistakes and vowed to correct them. There is no perfect company,” Tambunting said.
“Our countrymen in far-flung areas are being deprived of information they could get from ABS-CBN, especially at this time of COVID-19 pandemic. This is also an issue about more than 11,000 workers,” Zarate, for his part, said.
Rodriguez also urged his colleagues to vote on conscience. “I would urge those who are going to vote to [do so] on conscience....,” he said “Vote on conscience so that we will be voting for the 11,000 employees of ABS-CBN and a vote for the people’s rights to information. We should vote on truth, on principle,” he added.
While Congress is a political institution, Zarate reminded his fellow legislators to vote based on people’s interest. “History will judge how we will vote on this (ABS-CBN franchise renewal),” he said.
Meanwhile, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano slammed Vice President Leni Robredo over the latter’s criticism of Congress’ prioritization of measures being tackled amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Cayetano said the chamber is able to tackle various bills on how the country will cope with the pandemic along with its deliberations on the network’s bid for a 25-year franchise.
Cayetano lamented Robredo’s ‘damn if you do, damn if you don’t’ remarks.
“When we were not taking up the ABS-CBN franchise, the Vice President said we should take it up soonest. Now that we are taking it up, she said there are many more critical issues that should be addressed,”
Cayetano said in his speech at the summation hearing.
Cayetano enumerated various measures that the House approved before it adjourned sine die in June which includes the Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy of the Philippines (ARISE Philippines Act); the COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus Act of 2020; the Better Normal for the Workplace, Communities and Public Spaces Act of 2020; and the COVID-19-Related Anti-Discrimination Act.
He also said the House was able to conduct hearings on pressing issues such as Meralco’s billing of our electricity consumption, the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s implementation of the national government’s social amelioration program, and the repatriation efforts for the stranded overseas Filipino workers amid the pandemic.
“We are not sleeping on it in Congress. I say this for the benefit of our Vice President who, despite appearing to be clueless to the real work of this Congress, nonetheless feels it’s her duty to instruct this House on how it should conduct its business,” Cayetano said.
“We are doing our job, the hearings are just not being broadcast live on television,” he added, noting that he had directed the House’s Press and Public Affairs Bureau to provide the Office of Vice President Robredo “with the pertinent bills for her future press statements.”
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by The Standard. Comments are views by thestandard.ph readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of thestandard.ph. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with The Standard editorial standards, The Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.