âA sword of Damocles over Philippines mass mediaâ
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he was “deeply saddened by this episode in the history of our nation” and found it “reminiscent of the dark pages in the history of the Philippine press in 1972.”
Senate PRIB/File
‘A sword of Damocles over Philippines mass media’
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - July 11, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Senators slammed the voting at the House of Representatives denying ABS-CBN’s application for the renewal of its franchise yesterday, saying the rejection was done for purely selfish political reasons.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he was “deeply saddened by this episode in the history of our nation” and found it “reminiscent of the dark pages in the history of the Philippine press in 1972.”

“Democracy thrives when there is free press and when journalists can exercise complete freedom to do their mandate of reporting facts without fear. But with what happened to ABS-CBN, it has shown that the ‘sword of Damocles’ can be unleashed any time,” Drilon said in a 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,” he said.

“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,” he added.

In the face of a global pandemic, the nation needs more access to information, and ABS-CBN complements other stations in providing timely and accurate reportage to the farthest locality unreachable even to the government, he said.

He said the 11,000 workers losing jobs next month have families to feed, rent and mortgages to pay and children to send to school, as they will suffer the consequences of the decision of the House of Representatives.

Sen. Grace Poe said the “pandemic of intolerance has claimed another victim” in ABS-CBN and, as a result, thousands of breadwinners will lose their jobs and millions their source of entertainment and information.

“ABS-CBN is far from a perfect organization and has admitted to its many failings. But in its balance sheet of accomplishments, the good it had done for our people are valuable,” Poe said.

She said 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. It is not just news that is curtailed but entertainment shows which represent the finest in the craft, delight the public and inspire our people to be the best,” she said.

Sen. Sonny Angara lamented that the House made the decision despite testimonies from the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Securities and Exchange Commission declaring that the network did not violate any law.

“Sad day for many reasons. Thousands will be out of work and will have no new jobs in this economy to apply for, with the biggest companies retrenching,” Angara said in a Twitter post. “The effects will surely be felt by our country and the economy.”

Angara thanked the 11 House members “who stood for what is right and just.”

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the House’s “death sentence” on the network meant also the “death” of the livelihood of thousands of its employees.

“This is what they want to happen: the 11,000 employees of ABS-CBN will also suffer the fate of thousands of OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) left on the streets; the fishermen of Gem-Ver that was rammed by a Chinese vessel last year and the thousands of our workers who walk kilometers just to go to work while POGOs were allowed to open,” Pangilinan said in Filipino.

He said the congressmen’s rejection of the franchise renewal application was proof that they do not care about ordinary people.

“Is this proof that ordinary Filipinos cannot rely on the administration in the middle of the most serious crisis of our generation?” he said.

Lawmakers who voted in favor of franchise extension said there are still remedies for the broadcast giant to secure a franchise.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate, who presented the arguments of proponents during summation of hearings last Thursday, said the decision of the committee may still be appealed and reversed.

“Under our rules, a member who voted with the majority can file a motion for reconsideration (MR) with his vote. But he must make his motion within the same meeting. He can still file the next day, but it has to be in writing,” he explained.

Once an MR is filed, Zarate said the committee should hold a hearing and tackle the appeal. Zarate said another option for the network is to reapply for franchise.

“ABS-CBN is not barred from filing another franchise application, for as long as there is a sponsor. But that will be a different situation because it will no longer cover the same frequencies,” he lamented.

ABS-CBN can also appeal the decision within the next 24 hours, according to House legislative franchises panel chair and Palawan 1st District Rep. Franz Alvarez. If the network files a motion for reconsideration, the House committee will have to hold another hearing before ruling on the appeal.

Zarate, one of the 11 members of the legislative franchise committee who voted in favor of ABS-CBN, questioned how the technical working group came up with its report during voting yesterday afternoon.

He lamented the outcome of the voting, saying he wouldn’t be surprised if some people would be interested in pursuing the frequencies of ABS-CBN.

“We are going back to the dark period of our history where there’s only one source of information,” he claimed.

Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said the outcome of the franchise bills is “not fair and just.”

“Why shut down a big company with thousands of employees amid a weakening economy? I’d rather have a media that makes mistakes then corrects them, than political leaders controlling media,” he said.

Atienza believed that members of the panel did not heed the call of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to vote based on conscience.

“If lawmakers vote based on their conscience, it should be a yes to ABS-CBN franchise because none of the major allegations were proven,” he argued.

Atienza is taking Cayetano to task over the outcome of the vote.

“The vote depended on the Speaker – he holds the baton, he is the orchestra leader. Speaker Cayetano said there’s a time for everything: this is not the time to get thousands jobless,” he said.

Proponents earlier expressed confidence that ABS-CBN would secure a franchise if only lawmakers would vote solely on merits of the issues tackled during the hearing.

Chilling effect

Vice President Leni Robredo said the House decision would have a chilling effect on media independence.

“It would not be a stretch to think that the persecution done to ABS-CBN could change the editorial choices of other media,” the Vice President said in a statement in Filipino.

She sai Filipinos expect government officials to treat freedom of expression as part of the process to improve their work.

“But with the arrest of Maria Ressa, the passage of the Terror Bill, and the closure of ABS-CBN, it seems it’s the opposite that is happening,” she said.

“The message is: if you don’t fully agree with them, they will treat you as enemies,” she said.

She said the denial of ABS-CBN’s renewal of franchise proves that “our choice of leaders matters.”

“It’s important to choose leaders who really reflect our goals and principles. Let’s remember the names of the congressmen and officials who contradict our beliefs and hold them accountable through a democratic process,” Robredo said.

“Let us continue to have faith, unite and resist. Every statement and action would contribute to the long process of achieving a free and humane society,” she said.

Former solicitor general Florin Hilbay and human rights lawyer Chel Diokno also denounced the decision of the House of Representatives.

“When this dictatorship is over, let us commit to giving ABS-CBN – its leaders and employees – the franchise it deserves. History will repeat itself, and bend towards justice,” Hilbay said in a post on Twitter.

Diokno, also on Twitter, slammed the lawmakers for prioritizing the closure of the TV network as “thousands get sick and die of COVID-19” in the country.

He said the hearings showed that there are many politicians whose positions should not be renewed as well.

Various advocacy groups also denounced lawmakers who voted to reject ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal bid.

“It is another blow to press freedom and shows tyranny at its worst. In the middle of a pandemic, government chose to kill thousands of jobs and the hopes of the people. We are outraged,” Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato Reyes said.

“We shall continue to stand with our friends in ABS-CBN. Let us not stop fighting the good fight,” he added.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said the voting only showed several lawmakers are not representing the interests of their constituents.

“Today, the House of Representatives of the 18th Congress of the Philippines has declared itself enemy of democracy. Today, this chamber has lost all claim to represent the people and our interests,” the NUJP said.

“Today not only have more than 11,000 people been stripped of their jobs, millions of Filipinos have been deprived of their right to know and their right to choose how to access the information they need to decide on their future as well as the entertainment that allows them a respite from the hardships of life,” it added.

“After 12 excruciating hearings, the longest franchise deliberation in Congress’ history, it is clear that ABS-CBN did not commit any serious violation of the law nor the provisions of its franchise to merit a non-renewal of its franchise,” the Movement Against Tyranny Movement said.

Karapatan said it “stands with press freedom advocates, human rights defenders, civil libertarians and all freedom-loving Filipinos in condemning this atrocious assault. We cannot let this continue. We should continue to resist. We should continue to fight back.”  Elizabeth Marcelo, Helen Flores, Robertzon Ramirez, Edu Punay

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