The Commission on Human Rights said Saturday the House of Representatives’ denial on Friday of ABS-CBN’s franchise application “gives a chilling effect on the freedom of the press.”
“Unless Congress can disabuse the minds of the public that its decision was not based on a fair review and was devoid of any political consideration, the denial of the franchise gives a chilling effect on the freedom of the press,” the CHR said in a statement.
Members of the House franchise committee, after 12 lengthy joint hearings with the committee on good government, on Friday voted 70-11 to deny ABS-CBN’s fresh franchise application, closing down the network’s broadcast business.
The CHR said the decision to deny the network a franchise would also deprive Filipinos access to information especially during this time of pandemic.
“CHR continues to stress the importance of timely, credible information in pushing everyone towards the correct direction in responding especially to a pandemic. The loss of a major network has inevitably left millions of Filipinos in the dark, especially those in far-flung areas with no access to the internet as an alternative,” it said.
Lingayen Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said members of the House of Representatives should have used their powers more responsibly.
In a statement, the former chief of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said: “The President’s threats to close the station are a matter of public record. Now that the matter of the franchise has been dealt a final blow by the Lower House, can our people be blamed for the perception that Congress, supposedly a fiercely independent body of the people’s representatives, has bent over in subservience to the President?”
Villegas added: “All power comes from God and therefore must be wielded responsibly. The exercise of power must always be ordered towards the common good.”
One of the supporters of the ABS-CBN franchise bills said the findings of the technical working group of the joint panel that recommended the denial of the network franchise application was “worrisome.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said he was expecting the TWG to consolidate all the bills on the ABS-CBN franchise renewal and issue a substitute bill that would contain all the amendments that legislators would want the network to institute in the new franchise.
The CHR, for its part, also lamented the loss of jobs that may happen as a result.
“The thousands of workers confronted with the sudden loss of jobs also adds to the number of the struggling population who continues to suffer from loss of livelihood due to the extended lockdowns,” it said.
“But, ultimately, the decision impacts greatly on the work of the media as purveyor of free speech and information. The denial of the franchise of ABS-CBN affects greatly public interest given the reach of its broadcast which extends to all corners of the country,” the CHR said.
The commission said the allegations of violations of the network in its franchise use “should have been dealt (with)in accordance with existing laws.”
It added the same standards used for ABS-CBN should also be used on other franchise applicants.
“And the same standard that was used for ABS-CBN should have been consistent with the rest of the franchise applications. Otherwise, this puts in question the rule of law fundamental in protecting rights and instead shows a rule by law—devoid of fairness and justice,” the CHR said.
In an interview, Zarate said: “I was saddened after reading it and at the implications of the conclusions and findings of facts in the Technical Working Group adopted by the committee yesterday is at the very least worrisome. The Technical Working Group tackled the eight major issues against ABS-CBN. But I saw there that they supplanted their findings and conclusions of the regulatory bodies.”
Palawan Rep. Alvarez, chairman of the franchise panel earlier said the door was not totally closed on the network as the committee on franchises was willing to reopen hearings if a congressman files a fresh bill seeking a franchise for the network.