MANILA - The shutdown of media giant ABS-CBN Corp deprives 3.129 million Filipinos of critical information and entertainment while struggling through the coronavirus pandemic, a lawmaker said Monday.
At the second hearing on the ABS-CBN franchise at the House of Representatives, Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Ramirez-Sato emphasized the importance of ABS-CBN's wide broadcast reach in calling for the renewal of the network's franchise.
"The shutdown of ABS-CBN could not have come at a more unfortunate time. Amidst our nation’s battle against COVID-19, crucial information and updates on this global pandemic could not be accessed 3,129,000 Filipinos," said Sato, sponsoring House Bill No. 5753,
"3,129,000. This is the number of Filipinos who rely solely on ABS-CBN’s broadcast simply because other networks cannot reach them," she said.
Sato said this figure covers over 600,000 households: 151,000 in Northern Luzon, 53,000 in Central Luzon, 86,000 in Southern Luzon, 199,000 in Visayas, and 151,000 in Mindanao.
"Yes, 3,129,000 Filipinos are now in a state of continuous and complete blackout of news, information, and entertainment at a time of fear, panic and uncertainty," Sato told the joint hearing of the House committees on legislative franchises and good government and accountability via videoconferencing.
"ABS-CBN serves the farthest and remotest regions of the country which no other station or channel could reach. This brings to fore the urgency and necessity to renew and or grant franchise to ABS-CBN," she said.
Sato cited how such lack of access to critical information on the outbreak and available government assistance could determine the survival of Filipinos in remote areas.
"During emergency situations, updated, reliable and accessible information can spell the difference between life or death. Lack or absence of information can spawn and add fuel to panic, helplessness and hopelessness," she said.
She also called on the chamber to assert its exclusive power over legislative franchises, hitting Solicitor General Jose Calida for asking the Supreme Court to invalidate ABS-CBN's broadcast license in a quo warranto petition he filed in February.
Calida joined the hearing via videoconferencing.
Other than the petition, Calida was known to have pressed the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to issue a cease-and-desist order against ABS-CBN on May 5, a day after its franchise lapsed. This even as the NTC had promised Congress it would grant ABS-CBN provisional authority while its franchise renewal remained pending.
"Your honors, I firmly believe that again, this is an attempt to emasculate, to remove from it (Congress) and diminish the exclusive and original jurisdiction of congress over legislative franchises. It is very clear from a long line of cases and jurisprudence that legislative franchises may not be revoked on the grounds of violation of its franchise through quo warranto petition," Sato said.
"Let us assert our powers and authority. Let us not allow anybody to play around with the sacred powers granted to us by our constitution," Sato said.
She said she was "convinced" that "ABS-CBN did not violate the constitution and the franchise" following conscientious study of legal issues surrounding its license renewal.
The shutdown of ABS-CBN puts the employment of 11,000 people at risk. The network has said it did not violate any law.
news.abs-cbn.com is the official website of ABS-CBN Corp.