MANILA (3RD UPDATE) -- With more than 11,000 jobs on the line, a group of congressmen made a last-ditch effort to convince colleagues Thursday to vote in favor of granting a new broadcast franchise to ABS-CBN.
The appeal was contained in a statement signed by 16 representatives, who sponsored bills allowing the network to resume operations for another 25 years, ahead of Friday's vote.
The House Committee on Legislative Franchises is set to decide on the fate of the largest media network in the Philippines, following 12 marathon sessions that subjected ABS-CBN to fierce scrutiny unlike other broadcast frequency applicants in the past.
The bills' sponsors said the network "fully complied" with terms of its old franchise and deserves a new one.
"We... urge the House leadership to enable the quick passage of the bill granting a new 25-year franchise to ABS-CBN so that the network may resume its broadcast operations and its much-needed services for the benefit of Filipinos worldwide," they said.
"It deserves the renewal of its franchise not only because it deserves so but because we, the people, need its services to entertain and inform."
In the statement, the 16 ABS-CBN supporters summarized allegations raised against the network and clarifications made during the hearings by government offices and regulators that it did not violate the law.
The group cited the finding that ABS-CBN paid a total of P71.5 billion in taxes in 17 years, and did not use a subsidiary as a tax shield.
The signatories to the joint statement were:
- Rep. Sol Aragones - Laguna, 3rd District
- Rep. Arlene Brosas - Party List - GABRIELA
- Rep. Eufemia Cullamat - Party List - BAYAN MUNA
- Rep. Lawrence Fortun - Agusan del Norte, 1st District
- Rep. Mark Go - Baguio City, Lone District
- Rep. Rufus Rodriguez - Cagayan de Oro City, 2nd District
- Rep. Josephine Sato - Occidental Mindoro, Lone District
- Rep. Micaela Violago - Nueva Ecija, 2nd District
- Rep. Rosemarie Arenas - Pangasinan, 3rd District
- Rep. France Castro - Party List - ACT-TEACHERS
- Rep. Sarah Elago - Party List - KABATAAN
- Rep. Ferdinand Gaite - Party List - BAYAN MUNA
- Rep. Loren Legarda - Antique, Lone District
- Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto - Batangas, 6th District
- Rep. Joy Tambunting - Parañaque City, 2nd District
- Rep. Carlos Zarate - Party List - BAYAN MUNA
Of the 16 on the list, only 6--Aragones, Violago, Legarda, Arenas, Santos-Recto, Zarate--can vote by virtue of being either members of the legislative franchises committee or ex-officio members.
Zarate believes ABS-CBN will be granted a franchise if congressmen will truly vote based on conscience and the public interest.
"Kung 'yun ang pagbabatayan ay naniniwala tayo kung susundin ang sinabi ng Speaker [Alan Peter Cayetano] na kailangan bumoto tayo base sa kanilang konsensiya at kung ano ang interes ng mga mamamayan at bayan ay bumoto sila na ibigay ang bagong prangkisa sa ABS-CBN," he said in an interview on Teleradyo on Thursday night.
Should his colleagues vote in favor of ABS-CBN, he believes it can save the jobs of 11,000 employees amid a global pandemic, and the 18th Congress will be remembered for doing what is right.
"Isa itong pambihirang pagkakataon. Ito ay magiging bahagi ng kasaysayan ng ating bansa. At kami rin ay huhusgahan ng kasaysayan. Kaya sana, kung huhusgahan kami ng kasaysayan ay nasa panig kami ng tama at matuwid. Sa tingin ko, sa pagkakataong ito, tama at matuwid na bigyan ng panibagong prangkisa ang ABS-CBN," he added.
Aragones, a former ABS-CBN journalist, said she hopes the House panel will be able to vote on Friday as there's a chance it will be delayed.
"Hindi pa tayo certain doon (Friday) dahil baka pwede sa ibang araw pa," she told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
Others who have expressed support for ABS-CBN in the course of the franchise hearings are:
- Rep. Edcel Lagman - Albay, 1st District
- Rep. Alfredo Garbin - Party List - AKO BICOL
- Rep. Evelyn Escudero - Sorsogon, 1st District
- Rep. Jose L. Atienza Jr. - Party List - BUHAY
- Rep. Gabriel Bordado Jr. - Camarines Sur, 3rd District
- Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. - Manila, 6th District
- Rep. Rodrigo Abellanosa - Cebu City, 2nd District
ABS-CBN has been off the air on free TV since May 5 after the government shut it down because of an expired franchise. But the network had been applying for a new one since 2014.
On the eve of the committee vote, ABANG LINGKOD Rep. Joseph Paduano withdrew his authorship of a franchise for ABS-CBN, citing issues raised against it during the hearings.
Another congressman told ABS-CBN that at least 5 of his colleagues had indicated that they would vote against the network after hearing complaints over its news coverage last Monday.
Last Monday, Kabayan Rep. Ron Salo also withdrew his bill in favor of ABS-CBN, after complaining of an online news article written by this reporter.
The article cited the "strict regulations" in the Salo bill worded as "parameters of compliance," which included "ensuring impartial and balanced reporting."
While the bill did not say who would be the arbiter of such kind of reporting, Salo, in a sponsorship speech, warned that failure to comply could lead to the suspension of a program or a recommendation to revoke the franchise.