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Congress falls axe on ABS-CBN (2)

Clearly, when its application for a renewal of its franchise slept in Congress for six years, the owners knew that there was a brewing storm on the horizon and the probability of not getting a renewal from Congress was looming.

Salvador Panelo



Another Liberal Party stalwart, Senator Francis Pangilinan, one of the two senators who voted against the Anti-Terrorism Bill, and who led his party’s Ocho Diretso senatorial candidates to a humiliating defeat in the last national elections, joined the boisterous chorus against the non-renewal of the network’s franchise. He has this to say: “ABS-CBN was clearly singled out regarding its franchise application. Shutting it down is a grave abuse of legislative powers.”

Singled out? This legislator does not explain. Denial of the franchise application, a grave abuse of legislative powers? How is that again? The House of Representatives, acting through its Legislative committee, has the sole authority to grant or deny the application of a privilege to operate a TV and radio network. The committee heard both the pros and cons of the issue, and decided on the basis of the evidence presented before it. The vote was overwhelmingly against it. So, where is the grave abuse, for that matter an abuse of the exercise of legislative power? It is a known fact that the senator’s wife was/is a long-time talent of the network. Perhaps that is where the plaint of this senator is coming from.

Pangilinan’s colleague in the Upper Chamber, Senator Risa Hontiveros, who is the other senator who voted against the Anti-Terrorism Bill, and a perennial whiner and nitpicker on every pronounced policy of the Duterte administration, chimes in her pretended outrage: “The political persecution of ABS-CBN sends a chilling message to Filipino media practitioners and journalists: toe the line or get shut down.”

Political persecution? Why should the network be the subject of political persecution? Its function is to report news and provide entertainment. It is not supposed to be involved in politics. If it uses its resources to dip its hands into politics, then it violates its franchise and creates for itself enemies. Is this what happened to it? The non-grant of a renewal sends a chilling message to media practitioners and journalists to toe the line or get shut down? Nonsense. The message is simply: a franchise is a privilege and not a right. If the franchise grantee violates it, such privilege can be taken away by Congress.

The detained Senator Leila de Lima, who is facing drug charges and whose detention may have taken a toll on her physical health thereby affecting her judgement and her perception of the state of things, has screamed: “Summarily executed. This is how the ABS-CBN franchise was killed. Defenseless, no justice, no conscience.”

Absurd. There can be no “summary execution” if due process was observed. It was observed in the entire proceeding. All the voices were heard. The network officials assisted by their lawyers and committee members supporting their cause were given their day in court. ABS-CBN was not defenseless; it mounted a spirited defense. In the first place, there was no franchise killed. There was no existing franchise to speak of; hence, there was no franchise killed. There was an application to be granted, and this was denied. No justice and no conscience in the decision? There was deliberation after all the facts were in. Seventy committee members voting for a non-renewal of franchise as against 11 colleagues opposing it. The figure appears to be insurmountable. The claim that they voted without a conscience and did not render justice to the network could be way off tangent, at best speculative, and even unfair.

Senator Nancy Binay asks: “I can only ask our leaders what their plans are for the thousands of workers who have lost their jobs. At this time, the public all the more needs to feel that the government empathizes with them.”

Should she not ask instead what are the plans of the network for its employees who will lose their jobs? Is it not the duty of the network to have anticipated the situation it is presently in? After all, it created the reasons for failing to secure another franchise for 25 years. Clearly, when its application for a renewal of its franchise slept in Congress for six years, the owners knew that there was a brewing storm on the horizon and the probability of not getting a renewal from Congress was looming. Hence, they should have prepared for its eventuality, as common sense and business sense would have required of them. Why should Senator Binay switch the accountability to the government? Misplaced and unthinking.

Senator Joel Villanueva laments: “Losing a job at this point in time is a serious problem, not only to the 11,000 workers of ABS-CBN, but to their respective families and loved ones. It’s now everyone’s problem.”

Wrong. It’s not everybody’s problem. It’s the network’s problem. It created it; it should solve it. From the legislative hearings, the network saved billions of pesos in tax avoidance. In addition, it amassed a fortune in the course of its business. The network accumulated more than enough money to take care of itself and its employees. The new generation of Lopezes will take care of them. They are of a different breed from their ascendants.

Senator Grace Poe pontificates: “The correct and constitutional response for the broadcasting company’s case would have been to allow a remedy, which is the same chance extended to thousands of franchise applicants.”

Another thoughtless pontification. What constitutional remedy? Precisely, Congress has exercised its power to grant or deny a franchise. The only remedy for the network was to prove to Congress that it richly deserved the grant of the privilege, but the legislative body found it not measuring up to its standards. As a member of the Senate, the good senator should be aware of this constitutional reality.

Senator Sonny Angara floats the idea: “The denial of the broadcasting network’s franchise will have a negative impact not only on the advertising sector, but also on the country’s entire economy.”

Really now. This senator talks as if ABS-CBN is the only television network in the country. As if it has no other platforms to continue its news programs and entertainment shows.

Senator Dick Gordon speculates: “The perception is that ABS-CBN was closed because, perhaps, they were having disagreement with the current administration. You cannot close that perception.”

Senator Dick says “perhaps.” He is right; perhaps means maybe. It means it may be true or not. He is uncertain if indeed that is the perception. In other words, the perception adverted to is merely a speculation. Even if there is such a perception, it is of no moment, because it is a wrong perception arising from the false narratives coming from the purveyors of status quo. The congressional committee says it didn’t grant the network a new franchise because it violated the Constitution and the laws of the land. Unlike Senator Gordon’s speculation, the committee appears to have based its decision on the facts and the law. To be continued