Malacañang on Friday said it respects the decision of Congress to reject ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal application and cannot do anything about it.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque also reiterated that President Rodrigo Duterte did not interfere with the decision of Congress.
Roque said the decision was the sole prerogative of Congress that the executive department recognized.
In recent days, the Palace spokesman has repeatedly said that members of Congress should vote as “their conscience dictates” because the President was neutral on the issue, even though Duterte had vowed to block ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal as early as two years ago.
Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said the Palace never intrudes in the business of its co-equal branches.
“Both sides of the issues have been heard. We leave it to the collective wisdom of the committee apropos its denial of the renewal of [the] franchise,” he said.
The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued a cease-and-desist order on May 5 that brought about the network’s shutdown following the expiry of its 25-year franchise.
Opposition senators expressed grief over the House decision not to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise.
“This episode in the history of our nation is reminiscent of the dark pages in the history of Philippine press in 1972,” said Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.
“Democracy thrives when there is free press and when journalists can exercise complete freedom to do their mandate of reporting facts without fear,” he said.
He said the ABS-CBN case was a sword of Damocles over the heads of other media outfits.
After monitoring the exhaustive proceedings in the House of Representatives, Drilon said he is more convinced that the only fault of ABS-CBN is it stepped on some powerful political toes.
“The sword of Damocles will continue to hang perilously over other media networks. Both the legislators and the executive can wield the sword at their whim and caprice. This is when democracy starts to weaken.
In the face of a global pandemic, he said there was a need for more access to information.
He said ABS-CBN complements other stations in providing timely and accurate reportage even in the farthest locality unreachable to others, even to the government.
“ABS-CBN as an institution can survive this episode, no doubt, but the people whose livelihood depends on the network are the real casualties of this unfortunate and politically-charged event,” Drilon said, referring to the company’s 11,000 workers.
“Sad to say, the ABS-CBN will have to wait until 2022 when the new Congress is elected to apply again for the renewal of its franchise.”
Another member of the minority bloc, Akbayan Sen. Risa Hontiveros, said the non-renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise has set a dangerous precedent.
“Because the government allowed politicking in the process of renewing a legislative franchise and succeeded in the shutting down of a media institution, we have effectively begun to ring the death knell on press freedom in the country.”
She said political persecution of ABS-CBN sends a chilling message to Filipino media practitioners and journalists: toe the line or get shut down.
“While Filipinos are struggling with an unprecedented public health crisis brought by COVID-19, we have limited their access to life-saving information through the closure of a major media network that services at least 69 million Filipinos.”
“Because officials committed to settle their personal scores with ABS-CBN, 11,000 workers are now in danger of losing their jobs and may fail to provide for their families in the near future; all while Filipinos are facing a major economic recession due to the global pandemic,” she said.
“We must speak out against this outrageous act of political persecution. We must protect the cause of a free press in this country. We must not be afraid to hold those in power into account,” she added. “History will be harsh to those who ignored the most basic needs of Filipinos during this pandemic and instead used it to consolidate power for selfish reasons.”
Senator Grace Poe said a pandemic of intolerance has claimed another victim.
As a result, she said thousands of breadwinners will lose their jobs, millions their source of information, and Asia’s oldest democracy its icon of a free press.
While ABS-CBN is far from a perfect organization, and has admitted to its many failings, Poe said in its balance sheet of accomplishments, the good it had done are valuable.
“The correct – and constitutional – response is to allow it to remedy them, the same chance extended to thousands of franchise applicants.”
“This is so because a media organization that occasionally commits mistakes is in the nation’s interest than one that is permanently muzzled,” she added.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said the decision would have a negative effect on the economy and not only the media.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said the decision was a death sentence for the country’s largest broadcast network and its 11,000 employees.
Human Rights Watch said the refusal of Congress to renew ABS-CBN’s license was “a grievous assault on press freedom in the country.
“Not since the dictator Ferdinand Marcos shut down ABS-CBN and other media outlets in 1972 has a single government act caused so much damage to media freedom,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of the group.
“This move solidifies the tyranny of President Rodrigo Duterte who accused ABS-CBN of slights against him and politically targeted it for refusing to toe the government’s line and criticizing his so-called war on drugs,” he said.
“Today’s vote to deny the franchise renewal is an astounding display of obsequious behavior by congressional representatives, kowtowing to Duterte by agreeing to seriously limit media freedom in the Philippines,” he added.
“This is a black day for media freedom in a country previously regarded as a bastion of press freedom and democracy in the region.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) on Friday said that the 18th Congress “declared itself enemy of democracy.”
NUJP made the remark in a statement after the House committee on legislative franchises voted to dismiss the franchise application of network giant ABS-CBN.
“Today, this chamber has lost all claim to represent the people and our interests… But let us not mark July 10, 2020 as a day of defeat and mourning,” NUJP said. “Let us prove that it is not the ‘will of Congress’ but the will of the people that ultimately prevails.”
The NUJP said 11,000 people lost their jobs and millions of Filipinos have been deprived of their right to know and to choose how to access information and entertainment.
AlterMidya, a network of more than 30 independent media outfits, said ABS-CBN is “being punished for reporting and commenting on issues in a manner unacceptable to the Duterte administration.”
The group said the franchise denial is also a warning that if the administration could shut down the broadcast giant, “every journalist should think twice before [he or she] reports truthfully, or criticizes and dares hold the government to account.”
“All these are a blow to the people’s right to information. And a public denied of its right to know is a copious climate for tyranny and impunity,” AlterMidya said.
The leftist Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) condemned what it called Duterte’s use of his rubber stamp Congress to further “the advance his delusional agenda of a fascist rule.”
“This is an affront to press freedom everywhere. It sends a clear message that a media organization must not irk Duterte or his minions or else they can be shut down. It promotes a chilling effect on the media,” the group said.
“Duterte has only two options left for the media. Be his PR machine or shut down,” said Jerome Adonis, KMU secretary general.
“This is also an attack on the people’s right to know. Especially in this time of pandemic, access to information is paramount as this is a matter of life-and-death,” he added.
“This is, more than anything, an attack on the 11,000 workers who will lose their jobs as the network faces permanent closure.”
Amid the barrage of condemnation, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano appealed for sobriety.
“I pray that despite our differences, we will eventually come to respect the decision of the committee and its members, and begin to move forward in rebuilding the relationships that have been strained by this issue,” Cayetano said.
The committee voted 70-11, with two abstentions and one recusation, to reject the bills that give the Lopez-led broadcast network a 25-year franchise.
Cayetano said he believed the House joint panel conducted a fair, impartial, thorough, and comprehensive hearing” on the ABS-CBN franchise.
“Because of the highly partisan nature of this issue, we accepted from the start that there would be those who will vehemently disagree with the committee’s decision, no matter what they resolve,” Cayetano said.
“As the Committee members have voted to deny the franchise application, the House leadership asks that the people read the findings carefully in order to appreciate the reasons for their decision. And for those who do not agree, at the least, understand why the decision had to be so,” he added.
Vice President Leni Robredo on Friday expressed concern that Congress’ rejection of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal would have a chilling effect on the entire media industry.
She also pointed to the libel conviction of Rappler executive Maria Ressa and enactment of the Ant-Terrorism Act.
“The message is, if we do not fully agree with them (government), we are their enemies,” she said.
She lamented that 11,000 employees of ABS-CBN have lost their jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.