MANILA - Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri on Thursday appealed to House of Representatives members to give ABS-CBN an "amended" franchise instead of "completely" shutting down the network.
An amended franchise will let the Philippines' largest broadcast network ensure reforms "rather than completely close down an institution" that employs thousands of Filipinos during the global pandemic, Zubiri said in a statement.
"At the very least we can amend the franchise to add reforms to the process but to shut them completely down would be, to my humble opinion, too unreasonable and excessive," he said.
Zubiri noted that 80 percent of residents in his home province Bukidnon do not have access to the internet and only rely on radio and television for information.
"This time, marami po akong mga kababayan sa Bukidnon na wala na po [nakukuhang signal]... Cut off na po sila completely sa telebisyon," he said in an online press conference, when asked about how the shut down of ABS-CBN's broadcast operations affected his home province.
(This time, I have a lot of provincemates in Bukidnon who no longer have television signals... They are completely cut off from television.)
"They have no clue anong nangyayari sa bansa (what is happening in the country)... This is a disservice to them," he said.
Distance learning in Bukidnon's far-flung municipalities would also be a challenge without ABS-CBN, Zubiri said, noting that GMA 7 - the second largest network in the country - only has strong signals in the province's urban areas.
"Paano na ang mga kababayan na walang cellphone kung hindi pa sila maka-connect sa telebisyon?" Zubiri said.
(What will happen to our countrymen who do not have cellphones if they also don't have access to television?)
"Talagang napakahirap mag-distance education ng radyo lang ang gamit at walang video," he said.
(It would be very hard to conduct distance education if you're also using the radio and do not have access to videos.)
Schools across the country are shifting to alternative modes of learning this coming school year as physical classes are not allowed until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed.
Zubiri urged House members to give ABS-CBN "a chance to reform," saying a provision on the airing of advertisements can be included in their franchise to avoid instances where political ads are not aired on the network.
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly slammed ABS-CBN for the network's failure to air some of his ads during the 2016 campaign period. He has accepted the network's apology.
"I too have had my share of disappointments and disagreements with ABS-CBN like the non-airing of my political ads but I would never have wished for them to shut down," Zubiri said.
"I may have had times that I was angry with their reporting but I would never allow my personal feelings to get in the way of what is for the greater good of the public," he said.
The House Committee on Legislative Franchises is expected to vote on whether or not to give ABS-CBN a fresh 25-year franchise this week.