ABS-CBN must stay
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - February 18, 2020 - 12:00am

It’s been 48 years since martial law was imposed by dictator Ferdinand Marcos, but the pangs and stench of that malodorous era are still felt by us media people. Absolutely yes, there was curtailment of our freedoms – of expression, of speech, of writing the truth.

Many writers were slapped libel suits for criticizing the actions of Marcos and his minions, but the cases were brought to the courts, and hardly was a journalist convicted for writing the truth. Comparing Marcos’ time and this time, the former, in retrospect, seems like child’s play.

These days, journalists are facing what may be so far the worst of these days’ sources of anxiety, joining forces as they do, to prevent the non-continuance of a giant broadcasting network’s existence.

ABS-CBN has been operating under a franchise for 25 years, its franchise ending on March 30, 2020. It produces news, public affairs, and entertainment shows on a daily basis. But the renewal of its franchise hangs in the balance. Most of the public look to the Supreme Court justices’ decision to approve or not Solicitor General Jose Calida’s petition for quo warranto i.e., to forfeit the legislative franchise of ABS-CBN Corp. and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence Inc. 

As defined by Cuhaime’s Law dictionary, quo warranto  is “a legal procedure taken to stop a person or organization from doing something for which it may not have the legal authority, by demanding to know by what right they exercise the controversial authority.”

According to the OSG’s petition for quo warranto, ABS-CBN has committed violations in the terms set by Congress when it approved ABS-CBN’s franchise in 1995. 

To summarize Calida’s charges against the giant network: It allowed foreign investors through Philippine Deposit Receipts or PDRs, which meant giving control and voting rights to them which the Constitution prohibits; it launched its TV Plus subscription service and the KBO Channel without approval from the National Telecommunications Commission; it aired without permit, pay-per-view boxing matches, a Holy week special, and concerts; as of February 2019, despite the absence of any permit from NTC and guidelines on conditional access, “the KBO Channel inveigled 1.2 million unique TV plus consumers to register in the service.” 

ABS-CBN denied the charges contained in Calida’s petition to cancel the network’s franchise, describing them as “part of a concerted effort to shut the network down.” Calida’s plea is “without merit,” it said, as all of the network’s strategies are “above board.”

The network said all broadcast offerings “went through the necessary government regulatory/approvals before going on air. The PDRs in question were also approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Philippine Stock Exchange before it was offered to the public and used to raise additional funding for the company.

The petition, said the network, was “ill-timed,” as Congress is about to start discussing bills that will renew the media firm’s authority to remain in the broadcast business.

Still fresh in one’s memory is the president’s vowing to put the channel and its subsidiaries out of business, even telling its executives to just sell the company. He earlier publicly spoke about his ire against ABS-CBN for not airing his political ads during the May 2016 presidential campaign, which he eventually won. Calida insists that the petition he filed is not motivated by politics. Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo says the same thing. 

Two areas to be affected by the closure of ABS-CBN are the issue of press freedom, and the loss of jobs for more than 11,000 employees and entertainers of the giant network.

Media groups see the filing of the case as a sign of the government’s “desperation” to muzzle media outlets critical of the administration to the detriment of about 11,000 talents and employees of the TV giant. This translates into 11,000 families depending on the company. The question that begs an answer from D30 is, will he allow them to go hungry?

Wresting away the franchise of ABS-CBN may be viewed by foreign and local investors as a political harassment against enterprises perceived as enemies of the administration, and discourage foreign companies from infusing capital in the country, critics say.

With the franchise’s 25-year end just a breath away, its renewal rests in the hands of Congress. This is so, because franchises are granted by Congress. Buhay Representative Lito Atienza behooves his colleagues to act on the issue.  He said all 302 members of the House should be given the chance to vote on the bill seeking to extend ABS-CBN Corp.’s franchise by another 25 years. 

“We cannot just wash our hands of the bill. That would be tantamount to Congress renouncing its executive power to grant legislative franchises,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon filed yesterday a joint resolution that seeks to extend the franchise of ABS-CBN Corp. up to the end of 2022, citing “the need for more time for both houses of Congress to review the application for renewal of the network’s franchise.”

Drilon filed Senate Joint Resolution No. 11 which stressed that both the Senate and the House of Representatives need additional time to review, assess and determine whether or not ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. shall be granted the renewal of its franchise.

The resolution noted that there are only 12 session days left before the next adjournment of Congress scheduled on March 14, 2020. Thus Drilon seeks to extend the validity of the franchise of ABS-CBN until Dec. 31, 2022 in order to give Congress enough time to study the various bills seeking the renewal of the franchise granted to the network.

SJR ll also states that 12 bills filed in the House of Representatives, including that of Senator Grace Poe, seeking to renew the broadcasting corporation’s franchise remain pending in the House committee on legislative franchises. 

Drilon had said earlier that “it is the Congress, not the Supreme Court, that has jurisdiction to review compliance by ABS-CBN of the terms of the franchise granted by Congress, especially that there are pending bills seeking to renew its franchise.”

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Email: dominitorrevillas@gmail.com

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