Erap sad over franchise shutdown of ABS-CBN but…
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - July 15, 2020 - 12:00am

Many bleeding hearts have already come out with their respective denunciations against the House committee on franchise vote that effectively shut down the giant TV network ABS-CBN. With overwhelming majority, 70 against 11 House panel members voted last Friday to reject the extension for another 25 years franchise of the Lopez-owned ABS-CBN broadcast network.

The House majority decision cited a litany of violations of the ABS-CBN of its existing franchise in refusing for a renewal for another 25 years. But long before Congress handed down its decision last week, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) had already shuttered the network’s operations. In its order, the NTC cited Republic Act (RA) No. 7966 which granted ABS-CBN a 25-year license to operate TV and radio broadcasting stations has already expired on May 4.

The NTC directed ABS-CBN to stop the operation of its various television (TV) and radio broadcast stations nationwide until its pending franchise renewal application is approved by Congress. The NTC order only affected the physical TV and radio broadcasting stations of ABS-CBN and does not prevent the network company from creating content and broadcasting over new media such as digital TV and the internet.

The NTC also invoked the Radio Control Law, Act No. 3846, which stated that “no person, firm, company, association, or corporation shall construct, install, establish, or operate a radio transmitting station, or radio receiving station used for commercial purposes, or a radio broadcasting station, without having first obtained a franchise therefor from the Congress of the Philippines.”

In fact, a “people’s initiative” provided under our country’s Constitution is being floated as a possible new route for the network as a way to reverse the House panel rejection of new franchise extension for the network. However, presidential spokesman Harry Roque sniped it down, arguing the grant of franchise is not what is contemplated by this constitutional exercise of “people’s initiative.” Roque further pointed to RA No. 7925, or the Public Telecommunications Policy Act, which states that a franchise is “a privilege conferred upon a tele-communications entity by Congress....”

It should not stop though the network and its supporters to go to the Supreme Court to decide on a “people’s initiative” route to get its franchise approved. Both ways, however, would entail a lot of time before it can be resolved whether favorably or not for the ABS-CBN.

How about filing a new franchise application? The second regular sessions of the 18th Congress will officially open this July 27. The original authors and 11 House members could re-file it. But then again, the new bill will go back to the first step in the legislative mills.

Thus, we ask, is this the end of the road for the ABS-CBN? Not just yet, I suppose.

In the meantime, the ABS-CBN could start to correct the alleged franchise violations enumerated by the technical working group of the House committee on legislative franchises.

But that is on the assumption that President Rodrigo Duterte really meant what he supposedly declared before. Prior to the franchise voting, Roque disclosed President Duterte has already forgiven the “sins” of the network during the May 2016 presidential campaign of the former Davao City Mayor.

However, just last Monday in a pep talk with the soldiers stationed in Sulu, President Duterte obliquely referred to the owners of the network, touting having ably broken the back of the ruling “oligarchs” in the Philippines without having declared martial law. Although there was no mention of the Lopezes, the President’s digs at the “oligarchs” came just after Congress voted down the franchise renewal application of the ABS-CBN.

The network along with another Lopez-owned Manila Electric Company were among crown jewels of the business empire of the Lopezes that were sequestered by the government during the martial law regime. Thanks to the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, the Lopezes regained their companies, including the ABS-CBN facilities in Mother Ignacia St. in Quezon City that were taken over by the government-owned PTV-4.

The ABS-CBN has grown since then to become a giant network and into other broadcast businesses piggy-backing on the same franchise. These were precisely among the franchise violations charged against the network. It has expanded its TV/radio transmissions not just here in the Philippines but also internationally. Through its Filipino Channel, the ABS-CBN catered to entertainment and information needs of Filipinos living in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, including our millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

An opinion survey done by Social Weather Stations showed 75 percent of Filipinos agreed that “Congress should renew the franchise of ABS-CBN so that it can broadcast its programs again.”

Beyond legalities and laws, former president Joseph Estrada felt sad over the fate that has befallen ABS-CBN. Like President Duterte, Mr. Estrada has long forgiven publicly the ABS-CBN for the unmitigated bashing he got from the network. Along with the Ayalas, the former president identified them also as “oligarchs” allegedly behind his ouster from Malacanang in January 2001. During his shortened presidency, Mr. Estrada recalled his having stopped the “sovereign guarantee” on the huge loans of these companies owned by the country’s “oligarchs” that were passed on to the Philippine government.

Speaking in behalf of his “Erap para sa masa,” Mr. Estrada echoed their sadness, especially millions of Filipinos abroad whom he rued would no longer be able to watch “free” Philippine movies aired by the ABS-CBN Filipino Channel. As a former bit actor who rose to fame as action star and successful politician, Mr. Estrada commiserated with the Filipino movie fans having to fork out P200 just to watch at orchestra section in theaters.

So Erap is also sad for the shutdown of the ABS-CBN for that reason. Erap has no love lost though for the network owners who included his daughter’s estranged husband, Beaver Lopez.

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