MANILA — The House of Representatives put ABS-CBN Corp. under "life imprisonment" and did not kill the network with the rejection of its license application last week, a lawmaker who had voted against the franchise renewal said Tuesday.
The House franchise committee permanently shut down ABS-CBN's free television and radio services in a vote of 70-11 last Friday, which put at risk the employment of over 11,000 workers and spawned accusations of an attack against press freedom.
"This was not a death penalty. This is life imprisonment. ABS-CBN lives, the corporation lives. But as to the franchise, there were violations that were established, it's very clear," said Anakalusugan Party-list Rep. Mike Defensor.
"ABS-CBN was not killed. They were given the life imprisonment and there is time to reform during life imprisonment. That is part of the rehabilitation of a prisoner when they're put in jail," added Defensor, who is vice chairman of the House good government committee.
The "key issues" that led to the franchise denial include the network's Philippine deposit receipts (PDRs), alleged tax evasion and labor practices, he said.
During hearings, however, government agencies cleared the network of various alleged violations.
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Commissioner Ephyro Luis Amatong had said PDRs "do not reflect transfer of ownership to foreigners."
Contrary to allegations of tax irregularities, the Bureau of Internal Revenue testified that the network regularly settled taxes and is one of the country's top taxpayers.
Philippine Economic Zone Authority officials also said the broadcaster has no tax shield.
A labor official also said ABS-CBN complied with standards.
'KILL, KILL, KILL'
The death of ABS-CBN Corp's franchise application in the House of Representatives is in keeping with the alleged "kill, kill, kill" legacy of President Rodrigo Duterte's administration, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility trustee Vergel Santos said last week.
"'Pag tiningnan mo, iyong kill is very much in keeping with the theme of this regime di ba? Patay, patay, patay," he said.
(When you look at it, 'kill' is very much in keeping with the theme of this regime. Kill, kill, kill.)
"This pre-stages an even more worrisome sense of impunity sa ating institusyon. Puwede palang gawin ito. Ang chill talaga is going across, not only the media — sa tao," he told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo.
Duterte, whose war on narcotics has killed thousands, early in his term accused the network of failing to air his 2016 campaign adverts and not returning the payments, and singled it out for ire in his speeches.
"I'm sorry. You're out. I will see to it that you're out," Duterte said in December.
The denial of ABS-CBN's franchise was "a sole prerogative of Congress that we in the Executive recognize," said Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque.
"The Palace has maintained a neutral stance on the issue as it respects the separation of powers between the 2 co-equal branches government," he said.
HOW CAN ABS-CBN RETURN?
ABS-CBN has to re-apply for a franchise as "a different corporation," said Defensor.
"There's a problem if you were found violative of certain laws like the labor laws, taxes that we were discussing, PDRs, so on so forth," he said.
"But as to the ownership, I'm not so sure because if you check the ABS-CBN Corporation and you find certain personalities also part of another corporation, then that might also be reason for more scrutiny, more clarification," he added.
Some groups recently floated the idea of reviving ABS-CBN's broadcast operations through a people's initiative that would require the signatures of 10 percent of nationwide voters, and least 3 percent of the voters in every legislative district.
"I would like to see the people who compose ABS-CBN to be back in broadcast media because you are a very good station and you have very good people and you have very, very talented people," said Defensor.
Watch his full interview here:
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