MANILA (UPDATE) — The Filipino people will be the biggest loser if Congress rejects ABS-CBN's franchise bid, according to a lawmaker, who described the network as a "large contributor and driver of the economy" as well as a reliable partner in public service.
Baguio Rep. Mark Go appealed to his colleagues on Thursday to grant the franchise, saying the network has been at the "forefront of providing genuine public service to the Filipino people."
"Let it be known that in the issue of granting ABS-CBN a new franchise, those bearing the brunt of the commotion surrounding it are not limited to the Lopezes, the Katigbaks, or the network's roster of celebrities... Those who undoubtedly suffer from the lack of decisive action on ABS-CBN's authorization to operate... are the Filipino people," Go said during the joint panel hearing on summation of issues on the ABS-CBN franchise bills.
The lawmaker said that aside from press freedom, ABS-CBN's franchise application is also an economic and public service issue.
"The network has always been at the forefront of mobilizing Filipinos in soliciting donations and joining relief operations during challenging times... When we grant ABS-CBN a new franchise, we work towards the interest of public service and the country's economy."
'LEAVING COMMUNITIES IN DARKNESS'
Go said pulling the plug on ABS-CBN's broadcast operation imperils communities in far-flung areas, whose only source of information comes from the network.
"In a world where disinformation has become prevalent, and information and knowledge sharing is crucial in transitioning to a new normal, are we choosing to leave behind in darkness the many Filipinos from far-flung areas which only [get their information] by broadcast signals of ABS-CBN? Are we going to leave households vulnerable to the wrath of natural and public health calamities?" Go asked.
It is also irresponsible, Go said, for the lawmakers to thumb down ABS-CBN's franchise application, which will effectively add to the rising number of Filipino people currently unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Why should we actively choose to cut the livelihood of 11,071 employees, talents, and service providers? It is a disservice to the interest of the Filipino people that we, the representatives who swore an oath of public service, add to the rising toll of the unemployed and underemployed," Go said.
Meanwhile, Cebu City Rep. Rodrigo Abellanosa said settling ABS-CBN's violations should be left to the courts, and not Congress, whose mandate is to simply approve or reject its franchise.
"Our mandate as Congress is to grant franchises so that public utilities including broadcast networks may be allowed to operate... Let the courts settle violations as it is the judiciary's mandate," Abellanosa said.
He appealed to his colleagues to let the ABS-CBN franchise bills be taken up in the plenary to give other lawmakers a chance to participate in the deliberations.
"I'm hoping this issue can proceed and be taken up [for] second and third reading in plenary to give opportunity to all representatives of the people... and to have our voices heard and votes counted given this issue is of national importance."
He also asked that lawmakers set aside their biases and make a "judicious judgment" for the benefit of the country.
"This representation humbly calls all the members... to render a crucial judgment. Let us pause for a while, bow our heads in humility, close our eyes to our personal biases in order to open and let in a better vision for our country. Talk to our conscience and make a judgement, a wise and judicious judgment," Abellanosa said.
ABS-CBN officials appeared 12 times before the House legislative franchises and good government committees starting in May to appeal for a renewal of the network’s 25-year franchise and answer allegations of franchise violations.
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has called for a "conscience vote" instead of a party vote on ABS-CBN's franchise application.
The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) on May 5 shut down ABS-CBN's free television and radio services despite its earlier commitment to let the network stay on the air while lawmakers deliberated on its license renewal.
Last week, the NTC also closed down ABS-CBN's digital broadcast and Sky Cable's direct-to-home satellite transmission, following the legal advice of Solicitor General Jose Calida, who in February sought to nullify the franchise of the network due to alleged abuses.
The shutdown "has deprived more than 69 million Filipinos of the kind of information, analysis and commentary, and public service provided by ABS-CBN News," including migrant workers, and those without internet connection and are reached solely by the network's signal, Integrated News chief Ma. Regina Reyes told lawmakers.
The ABS-CBN shutdown jeopardizes the employment of some 11,000 workers, with the network considering retrenchments by August due to the loss of P30-P35 million in advertising revenues daily.
News.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.