MANILA - The denial of ABS-CBN's franchise bid was "legislative murder", a journalist said Tuesday, despite a lawmaker's assurance that the decision was "legal and aboveboard."
Voting 70-11, the House committee on legislative franchises denied Friday the country's largest broadcasting firm a fresh license to operate, a move seen by some sectors as curtailment of press freedom and endangering the livelihood of some 11,000 workers.
John Nery, convenor of the Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation, said the report was a "rationalization of something that had already been decided."
"One of the passages on the last page where it says 'This committee assures the House of Representatives that in no way is this a matter of press freedom.' I find it curious that the language used was one of assurance," he told ANC.
"This committee assures the House of Representatives that the legislative murder we’re about to commit is all legal and aboveboard, that’s essentially what they’re saying."
Lawmakers had adopted the recommendation of a technical working group created only a day before the voting.
Batangas Congresswoman Vilma Santos-Recto earlier said the report was written less than 24 hours after a technical working group was formed; the final report submitted an hour before the voting.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez earlier questioned the speed of the drafting group in releasing its findings.
Cebu 3rd District Rep. Pablo John Garcia, a member of the drafting group, said they met "immediately" after the summation of the panel's 12 hearings into ABS-CBN's franchise bid and finished the report at around 11 a.m. last Friday.
Lawmakers had "around more than hour" to read the 40-page report before voting began, Garcia said.
"Pretty much I believe members of the committee on legislative franchises had their own positions after this unprecedentedly long process. I consulted members of the majority, leaders of voting blocs in Congress to ask them to determine what was the consensus within their own blocs," he told ANC.
"I stand by this 40-page report," he added.
The grant of a legislative franchise was a "privilege, not a right," according to Garcia.
"You’re talking about a privilege, not a right. When you say there is no violation proven (by) the agencies that is not how the process works. It is not a right," he said.
"Let’s not compare this to a trial in court... I would say this is akin to a job application. This is akin to a confirmation hearing where...the Commission on Appointments can consider and believe the allegations of complainants against them."
Garcia said President Rodrigo Duterte's initial rejection of ABS-CBN's franchise bid "had nothing to do" with the House panel's decision.
Nery, however, said Congress was "keeping the President's promise for him by saying it's not a matter of press freedom."
"I actually think there’s a good case to be made if we have a truly independent Supreme Court for a petition alleging abuse of discretion," he said.
"The hearings proved that it was a manifestly unfair process and there is a new provision in post-Marcos Constitution that allows the Supreme Court to strike down actions by the legislative or executive if they abuse discretion."
Garcia said all applications for legislative franchises from now on would be subjected to the same process.
"When Congress does something…it is also determining policy. We are not saying let’s cite all these violations from ABS-CBN and look away from other possible violations of other companies. All of the entire industry should follow this."
Nery, however, said he "wouldn't bet" other networks would go through the same process.
"This is a special case for ABS-CBN because the President himself was especially interested in it," he said.
ABS-CBN was forced off the air on May 5 on the orders of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) following the lapse of its franchise. The NTC had earlier committed to allow the network to continue its operations beyond its license expiration.
Last month, two alias cease and desist orders were served against the network's digital broadcast in Metro Manila, and its sister company Sky Cable's direct broadcast satellite service.
news.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.