CEBU, Philippines — In an overwhelming and historic 70 – 11 vote, the House of Representatives on Friday rejected the franchise renewal application of ABS-CBN, ending the broadcast giant’s use of Channel 2 after 53 years.
A majority of 70 regular members of the committee on legislative franchises and House leaders who stood as ex-officio members voted to thumb down the bills seeking to grant the Lopez-owned network a fresh 25-year franchise.
They voted to “deny the application of ABS-CBN Corporation for a franchise to construct, install, establish, operate, and maintain radio and broadcasting stations in the Philippines.”
Among the 70 are Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas (First District) and Deputy Speaker Pablo John Garcia (Third District). Another Cebuano, TUCP Partylist Rep. Raymond Mendoza, also voted in favor of rejection.
Garcia is a member of the Technical Working Group (TWG) that recommended the denial of the application based on “consensus” after the summation of arguments during the hearings. The other members are Representatives XJ Romualdo of Camiguin and Stella Quimbo of Marikina, who dissented from the resolution.
“The TWG, after due consideration of the testimonies, documents, submissions and arguments, has recommended to deny the franchise application of ABS-CBN Corp.,” reads the resolution adopted by the panel during a one-hour hearing.
Eleven members including proponents of the franchise bills and supporters voted to grant the franchise application, but were outnumbered by the majority.
The 11 are Representatives Sol Aragones, Christopher De Venecia, Carlos Zarate, Gab Bordado, Vilma Santos – Recto, Lianda Bolilia, Ping Tejada, Beny Abante, Stella Quimbo, Mujiv Hataman and Edward Maceda.
Two members inhibited while Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas abstained from voting.
The panel resolved the matter after holding 12 marathon hearings in almost two months following adjournment sine die of Congress.
With the rejection of the franchise bills at the committee level, ABS-CBN’s application no longer reached the House plenary for deliberations by over 300 members of the chamber.
In the report the panel adopted, the TWG held that the ABS-CBN franchise application cannot be hinged on the constitutional press freedom.
“By no means can this franchise application be related to press freedom. It is what it is –a denial of a privilege granted by the State because the applicant was seen as undeserving of the grant of a legislative franchise,” the report stated.
“Such a scenario is totally inconsistent with the nature of legislative franchises as a mere privilege and never a matter of right. Wherefore, in view of the foregoing, the technical working group respectfully recommends the DENIAL of the franchise application of ABS CBN Corporation,” the report added.
The committee cited six issues tackled during the hearings that “taken collectively, weigh heavily against the grant of legislative franchise to ABS-CBN.”
The panel specifically cited “American citizenship of ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Eugenio ‘Gabby’ Lopez III and doubtful Filipino citizenship and allegiance to the Philippines,” possible violation of constitutional prohibition against foreign ownership in mass media, numerous violations of terms of the franchise, questionable tax avoidance schemes, apparent use of a dummy and less than exemplary labor practices.”
One of the vocal oppositors to the franchise application, Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor, lauded the TWG for its exhaustive report.
“It was a comprehensive report by the TWG. They lined up all issues. They said the citizenship issue wasn’t clear, but all the other issues they found the problems,” he explained in an interview after the voting.
In a statement following the vote, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the decision “sole prerogative of Congress.”
“The decision of the House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Franchises denying the franchise application of ABS-CBN Corporation is a sole prerogative of Congress that we in the Executive recognize. The Place has maintained a neutral stance on the issue as it respects the separation of powers between the two co-equal branches of government. Much as we want to work with the aforesaid media network, we have to abide by the resolution of the House committee,” Roque said.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who earlier called on colleagues to vote based on their conscience, asked for parties and the public to respect the decision.
“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,” he said in a statement.
“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,” the Speaker appealed.
Cayetano lauded the panel for conducting “a fair, impartial, thorough, and comprehensive hearing on the franchise application of the Lopez-owned ABSCBN Corporation.”
“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 committee¹s decision, no matter what they resolve,” he added. Philippine Star News Service, JMO (FREEMAN)