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Congress axe falls on ABS-CBN (1)

Did not all the journalists and TV and radio broadcasters express and write their opinions on the proceedings? Was that not an exercise of press freedom?

Salvador Panelo

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The reaction against — and opposition to — the decision of the Committee on Legislative Franchises of the House of Representatives denying the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN network, expectedly and unsurprisingly, comes from those who perceive, quite wrongly, and believe, mistakenly, it as a curtailment of press freedom. It is also erroneously and illogically being tied to the President as behind its decision.

The perennial anti-Duterte broadsheet, which is notoriously known for screaming slanted news headlines and biased reporting against President Duterte and his administration, yesterday headlined the exaggerated if not false news — Rage grows over ‘stab at press freedom’ — making it appear that there is an overwhelming people’s indignation over the congressional committee’s decision rejecting the network’s bid for a 25-year renewal of its franchise. The protest and condemnation against it come from the usual few mix of partisan critics and detractors, but certainly raucous and not lacking in boisterous exuberance.

The main story in unsurprising exaggeration narrates: “The outcry against the denial of a franchise for ABS-CBN is growing louder as more groups protest against the House committee vote that finally closes all of the network’s radio and television stations. The reporters covering the President say in a statement that they deplore the display of ‘blatant and arrogant abuse of power.’”

The outcry comes from the same groups that are either identified with the left or with the yellow opposition, a strange mix of former contending forces during the last Aquino administration that have suddenly become bedfellows fighting a common enemy. Political opportunism at its best? The decision, a “blatant and arrogant abuse of power” by Congress? The Constitution exclusively gives the House of Representatives the power to grant franchises. It conducted marathon transparent hearings, giving proponents and oppositors the opportunity to present their adversarial positions, with the public informed of every stage of its proceedings. How could there be a “blatant and arrogant abuse of power?” Just because the decision is not what the reactors want it to be?

The committee, in the majority’s collective wisdom, decided against a renewal of franchise on the basis of the evidence presented before them. Seventy committee members as against 11 colleagues overwhelmingly voted in favor of the non-renewal. How can we honestly accuse them of being arrogant and abusive, when the rules of the House and its committee have been strictly followed?

We will not dwell into the correctness of the committee’s decision. The members can — and should — defend their verdict. They should expound the rationale of their votes. We will only concern ourselves with whether or not due process and the rule of law have been observed in determining the entitlement of the privilege of a franchise, as well as the truthfulness of the implications of its denial as advanced by those against it.

Let us examine the validity of their protestations and conclusions.

The main political Liberal Party declares: “Join us and rise to protest this outrage, even as we denounce the 70 congressmen who brought it about. The chapters of the Liberal Party will inform our people of the truth behind this issue. We shall not let it pass. We shall fight repression and injustice!”

Protest the outrage? Fight repression and injustice?

Where is the outrage, the repression and the injustice of a congressional decision that followed the due process clause of the Constitution and adhered to the rules of the House of Representatives?

Its protestation appears to have no constitutional and legal bases in so far as the conduct of the legislative proceeding is concerned. In the past, this political party has peddled false narratives against the government on the drug war, on alleged human rights violations, on alleged suppression of the freedoms of speech and peaceable assembly and on alleged wrong responses to the coronavirus. No wonder the candidates of this Liberal Party known as the Ocho Diretso were wiped out and repudiated humiliatingly and overwhelmingly by the Filipino electorate in the last senatorial elections. Apparently, it has not learned its lesson.

Vice President Leni Robredo, who has become an expert in issuing false, if not misplaced or absurd, statements in her desire to become politically relevant, issued another statement of the same tenor. She says: “The government should promote press freedom and enhance freedom of speech but recent events proved otherwise. It is saddening for Congress to take the path of refusing to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN instead of focusing its sight and resources on implementing measures to combat COVID-19.”

What is VP Leni talking about? Didn’t the just concluded transparent proceeding in Congress show that the freedom of speech flourished during the deliberations, where both sides of the issue articulated their positions, and where the resource persons expressed themselves without inhibition? Were not the proceedings covered by all media outlets and reported to the public? Did not all the journalists and TV and radio broadcasters express and write their opinions on the proceedings? Was that not an exercise of press freedom?

VP Leni complains about Congress deliberating on the renewal of the franchise “instead of focusing its sight and resources on implementing the measures against COVID-19.” Huh? VP Leni has not heard of the passing of the Bayanihan Act, and the preparation for the enactment of another law to respond to the challenges spawned by the virus? Let us remind her that the implementation of the legislative measures passed by Congress lies on the Executive department and not on the former.

A stalwart of the Liberal Party, Senator Frank Drilon, who appears to have lost his voice in defending the Anti-Terrorism Bill to which he inked his approval, has broken his silence on a vital issue and made the following statement: “After monitoring the exhaustive proceedings in the House of Representatives, I am more convinced that the only fault of ABS-CBN is it stepped on some powerful political toes; hence the sword has been unleashed on it.” Really now, Senator Frank? Who are these powerful political foes? Why don’t you name them? Exactly what has ABS-CBN done to these political foes? You are effectively saying that the network has committed grave sins against these people you referred to. I thought the network was only doing news reportage and entertainment in the service of the Filipino people? Are you confirming that ABS-CBN has gone beyond its main purpose for being and violated the rights of certain people as well as its franchise?

(To be continued)

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