A majority of senators have expressed support for ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal, assuring the public that there have been no efforts from any party to stonewall the process.
“Many of us are in favor of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal. I personally am one of those who would vote in favor of the franchise of ABS[-CBN],” adding “I don’t think it will have a difficult time here in the Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said in a report by the Manila Bulletin.
Zubiri’s pronouncement came amidst a deluge of support announced by various sectors for the country’s leading broadcast network, which became the target of a quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, alleging the network of wrongdoings that warranted a franchise revocation.
Zubiri said he recognized that for ABS-CBN to lose its franchise would mean its social and environmental programs, which Filipinos rely on, would also be affected.
Another senator who has made public her support for the network is Nancy Binay, who admitted that while her family had been the subject of the media company’s criticism in the past, she would still vote in favor of the access to information.
“If we lose ABS-CBN, it would be a big blow on access to information, she said.
Binay also pointed out the danger the non-renewal posed to thousands of workers. “Of course, we also think about those who will lose their jobs,” she added.
Reacting on the filing of the petition, Senator Risa Hontiveros cited in an Inquirer report the danger it brings to the country’s democracy. “The filing of the Office of the Solicitor General of a quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN really has dangerous implications. We know that in any democracy, in a modern democracy, a free press is not our enemy,” Hontiveros said.
“Media is not an enemy. A free press is an important check and balance against any abuse of any part of the government, and it helps our very challenged democracy survive,” she added.
The sentiment was echoed by opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who stressed that networks should be allowed to exist to serve the public.
“While networks are here for profit, they also exist for public service and as watchdog of government. Their continued operations should not be at the mercy of the government in power that they seek to guard,” he said in a report on Manila Bulletin.
Zubiri said other senators sympathized with ABS-CBN, among whom, are Grace Poe, head of the Senate committee on public services, Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., chairman of the Senate committee on public information and mass media, Sonny Angara, and Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III.
But the Senate could not act on the renewal as the bills on the network’s franchise had remained undiscussed in the House of Representatives since the 17th Congress.
“Under the Constitution, all of legislative franchises have to be passed first by the HOR (House of Representatives) before being tackled in the Senate,” Zubiri said.
Meanwhile, commenting on criticism against the snail’s pace that the process has taken in Congress, Isabela Rep. Antonio “Tonypet” Albano committed that they will be ”hearing this very soon” and that it has “already been calendared,” adding that they have been discussing the issue behind closed doors.
The call for the franchise renewal of the Lopez-owned network reached fever pitch as cause-oriented groups, media organizations, journalist groups, ABS-CBN artists, artists from rival network GMA, and countless netizens rallied to voice their outrage at the filing of the petition, an act that many deemed as a blatant harassment of ABS-CBN.
ABS-CBN has already issued a statement regarding the Solicitor General’s filing last Monday, saying “the petition to revoke its legislative franchise was “ill-timed,” and that it did not violate any law on foreign ownership.
On Tuesday, in a report on ABS-CBN News, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the network could continue its operations until the end of the 18th Congress because renewal bills have already been filed.
“As long as there’s a bill filed, it is deemed extended until the end of the 18th Congress and it has not undergone hearings,” Sotto said.
“It has happened so many times with other franchises. That is the operation of law… If it is not approved until March of 2022, that is the only time it is terminated,” Sotto added.
Albano also explained that ABS-CBN could apply for provisional authority from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).