President Rodrigo Duterte on Dec. 30, 2019 delivered fresh blows against media giant ABS-CBN, whose congressional franchise is set to expire in three months.
Ace Morandante/Presidential Photo
Three-month countdown: What are ABS-CBN’s chances of renewing its franchise?
Ratziel San Juan (Philstar.com) - December 31, 2019 - 10:34am

PANGASINAN, Philippines — The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines is rallying for public support to defend press freedom after President Rodrigo Duterte delivered fresh blows against media giant ABS-CBN, whose congressional franchise is set to expire in three months.

“Itong ABS, mag-expire ang contract ninyo. Mag-renew kayo, ewan ko lang kung may mangyari diyan. Kung ako sa inyo, ipagbili niyo na ‘yan...And I will make sure that you will remember this episode of our times forever,” Duterte said in a Monday speech while visiting earthquake victims in North Cotabato.

(ABS-CBN’s contract is about to expire. Try to renew your franchise, let’s see what happens. If I were you, I might as well sell the network.)

Admin-led Congress

The NUJP described Duterte's statement as a veiled threat with “[w]ords that appear to be marching orders to his minions in Congress, led by Alan Peter Cayetano, who has admitted having ‘personal objections’ to renewing the franchise in a clear conflict of interest.”

ABS-CBN's franchise is set to expire on March 30, 2020, after which its broadcast services will cease operation.

At least five bills have been filed to extend the media network’s broadcasting operations for another 25 years.

The House of Representatives, meanwhile, has not acted on the pending legislation to renew the said franchise.

An administration-recognized super majority stands in the House with about 290 members. It is helmed by Speaker Cayetano who was the president’s running mate in the 2016 elections and Cabinet appointee prior to speakership.

Duterte also brokered the initial "term-sharing" agreement between Cayetano and Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Jay Velasco that saw the former rise to the speakership.

President’s signature needed

Broadcast companies, including radio and television networks, in the Philippines are required to seek a franchise from Congress under Republic Act 3846.

“No person, firm, company, association or corporation shall construct, install, establish, or operate a radio station within the Philippine Islands without having first obtained a franchise therefore from the Philippine Legislature,” RA 3846 reads.

ABS-CBN’s current franchise was granted a term of 25 years under Republic Act 7966, approved on March 30, 1995. It states:

“The ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation, hereunder referred to as the grantee, its successors or assigns, is hereby granted a franchise to construct, operate and maintain, for commercial purposes and in the public interest, television and radio broadcasting stations in and throughout the Philippines.”

A congressional franchise bill needs to be approved by the House of Representatives before it is transmitted to the Senate. The version of the bill approved by both chambers would then still need the president’s approval.

Duterte, however, has repeatedly criticized ABS-CBN and stated that he is determined to block the renewal of its franchise.

“Ang inyong franchise mag-end (your franchise will end) next year. If you are expecting na ma-renew 'yan (its renewal), I'm sorry. You're out. I will see to it that you're out,” the president said earlier this month.

Last year, the president said he disapproves of the renewal of the media company’s franchise but would not meddle in renewal talks.

“Now, ABS-CBN, their franchise is due for renewal... But I will never also intervene. But if I had my way, I will not give it back to you,” Duterte said in August 2018.

ABS-CBN’s future

Global watchdog organizations have since taken to ABS-CBN's side amid the franchise renewal issue, denouncing the Philippine government's alleged attack on press freedom and democracy.

Labor group Defend Job Philippines also said that the politicking is threatening the livelihood of thousands of ABS-CBN employees.

NUJP has asked Congress to act independently on the franchise renewal issue, estimating that between 10,000 to 11,000 are at risk of losing their jobs.

The hashtag #ABSCBNIsNotForSale trended on Twitter toward the year’s end with citizens reacting at the president’s tirades.

“We call on the community of independent Filipino journalists and on citizens who cherish democracy to band together and protect the free arena of ideas that the closure or forced sale of ABS-CBN would severely weaken,” the NUJP said in a statement posted New Year’s Eve. 

“The alternative— the death of freedom of the press and of free expression— is too horrible to contemplate.”

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima also related the franchise renewal issue to what she said is a pattern of government repression against its critics.

“The closure of a media outlet over a personal whim and political vendetta has no place in a free, democratic and just society,” the senator said in a statement earlier this month.

“Clearly, the President’s attacks on Rappler and Inquirer, and recently, his renewed threats of blocking ABS-CBN’s franchise, are part of his regime’s blatant crackdown, broader propaganda, and misinformation against media outlets, opposition leaders and organizations who criticize and challenge his crooked and brutal policies.”

ABS-CBN ABS-CBN FRANCHISE ALAN PETER CAYETANO COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS EXPLAINER HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH LEILA DE LIMA NATIONAL UNION OF JOURNALISTS OF THE PHILIPPINES NUJP PRESS FREEDOM RODRIGO DUTERTE
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