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ABS-CBN franchise renewal controversy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

ABS-CBN franchise renewal controversy
ABS-CBN (Quezon City; 03-06-2020).jpg
ABS-CBN Broadcasting Center, the headquarters of media conglomerate ABS-CBN Corporation, in March 2020
DateMay 5, 2020 (2020-05-05); 1 year ago
Cause
Participants
Outcome
  • ABS-CBN broadcast franchise, granted on March 30, 1995, expired on May 4, 2020
  • National Telecommunications Commission issued a cease and desist order on ABS-CBN, effectively ceasing broadcast operations on May 5
  • ABS-CBN Corporation filed petitions before the Supreme Court of the Philippines on May 7, seeking to nullify the NTC's cease and desist order
  • National Telecommunications Commission and Solicitor General Jose Calida issued two alias cease and desist orders on ABS-CBN TV Plus and Sky Direct, effectively ceasing operations on June 30
  • The House of Representatives, particularly the Committee on Legislative Franchises, voted 70–11 to deny the franchise application of ABS-CBN[5][1]
  • The frequencies assigned to ABS-CBN were recalled by NTC on September 10
  • ABS-CBN resumed broadcasting through pay-TV Kapamilya Channel on June 13, and free-to-air A2Z Channel 11 (via ZOE TV) on October 10
  • House Minority Leader Joseph Stephen Paduano urges NTC and BIR to investigate the blocktime agreement of ABS-CBN and ZOE Broadcasting Network (A2Z)[6][7]
  • Former rival TV5 started simulcast of selected ABS-CBN programming on January 24, 2021

The ABS-CBN franchise renewal controversy is a national dispute in the Philippines regarding the renewal of the congressional franchise that would have allowed Philippine media network ABS-CBN continued broadcasting rights in the Philippines.[8][9][10]

Disputes between the government of President Rodrigo Duterte and ABS-CBN arose on the terms and conditions of the franchise renewal agreement. Amid the controversy, the Congress of the Philippines, the legislature of the country, was unable to renew the franchise before its expiration date. The congressional franchise expired on May 4, 2020, as the Philippines was dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon.[11] The next day, exercising constitutional powers, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) then issued a cease-and-desist order demanding ABS-CBN to immediately cease all of its free TV and radio broadcasting. ABS-CBN complied with the government order and signed-off all of its radio stations and free television channels later that day.[8] On June 30, 2020, the NTC and Solicitor General Jose Calida released two alias cease-and-desist orders against ABS-CBN TV Plus and Sky Direct.[12]

Beginning in 2014 (during the presidency of Benigno Aquino III), the network had repeatedly applied for the renewal of their broadcast franchise through private bills that had been pending in the House of Representatives but had not been addressed by the 16th, 17th, and 18th congresses of the Philippines.[8][9][13] Prominent figures in ABS-CBN Corporation, the political opposition in the Philippines, media advocacy groups,[9] and the international press[8][11] have labeled the refusal of Congress to renew the franchise as a result of President Duterte's pressure for ABS-CBN to cease broadcasting, and a direct attack on the country's democracy and press freedoms. Duterte's ruling coalition maintains a supermajority in both chambers of Congress,[14][15] and the President criticized the ABS-CBN Network for their allegedly biased and unfavorable news coverage against Duterte beginning with his presidential campaign in the 2016 Philippine presidential election,[16] repeatedly voicing his opposition against the renewal of the network's congressional franchise.[17] ABS-CBN subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court of the Philippines to nullify as unconstitutional the cease-and-desist order.

The resulting franchise expiration and withdrawal of its broadcast rights marked the first time ABS-CBN, considered a historical and cultural icon in the Philippines, had been off the air since the 1986 revolution, having been seized and liquidated by the authoritarian government of the Martial Law dictatorship from 1972 until the regime's collapse in 1986.[8] Critics of the Duterte government consider the NTC's cease-and-desist order and the denial of the franchise application as contributing to a growing democratic backsliding in the Philippines under the Duterte administration.[18]

Background

Congressional franchise to operate television and radio stations

As prescribed by the American Insular government-era Act No. 3846, or the Radio Control Act, which became effective in 1931 (later amended in 1963), broadcasting networks require a congressional franchise to operate television and radio stations, which usually lasts for up to 25 years.[19] ABS-CBN, which had been operating since June 13, 1946, made its first television broadcast on October 23, 1953, had last been granted a 25-year franchise extension on March 30, 1995, by virtue of Republic Act No. 7966 (but later implemented on May 4, 1995). This expired on May 4, 2020, as upheld by the Department of Justice (DOJ).[20]

Press freedom and democracy issues

The Philippines is touted to have the "freest and liveliest press" in Asia,[21][22][23] where media is considered a watchdog[24] and a "fourth estate" helping to maintain the checks and balances of democratic governance.[25][26]

Despite this, the country is consistently ranked as one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists.[27][28][29] In May 2020, it slipped two spots down to 136th place (out of 180 countries) in the World Press Freedom Index.[30]

Media watchdogs such as Reporters Without Borders,[31] the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility,[32] Amnesty International,[33] the Photojournalists' Center of the Philippines (PCP), Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP), and the Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation (D&D)[34] have noted that various forms of attacks against the press have increased since the Duterte administration came to power in 2016 – with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, news website Rappler, nonprofit media organizations like Vera Files and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and ABS-CBN being particular targets because of coverage critical of the administration.[34][27][35]

Many of these media watchdogs[34] have issued statements placing the ABS-CBN broadcast stoppage in the context of systemic attacks against press freedom in the Philippines.[34][35] The shutdown order was denounced by media groups and people's organizations for being a loss of democracy, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press.[36][37] Some groups also placed the matter in the context of attacks and harassment aimed at those that criticize the government.[38][37]

ABS-CBN market share

The ABS-CBN broadcast network is acknowledged to be one of the Philippines' oldest and most influential media networks, run by the Lopez family.[10] The company generates about 50 to 60 percent of the group's total annual revenue mainly from selling airtime of its television and radio properties to advertisers. The remaining revenue is generated from consumer sales through distribution of cable and international channels, as well as operations of over-the-top platform services, and a family entertainment center in Taguig. According to the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC), ABS-CBN Corporation controlled "somewhere between 31% and 44%" of the Philippines' total television market as of 2020.[39]

Prior broadcast stoppage under Ferdinand Marcos

Prior to the 2020 stoppage, ABS-CBN had been closed down on September 23, 1972, when martial law under Ferdinand Marcos was announced and the station's television and radio stations were sequestered.[40][41] This stoppage lasted until July 1986, when the sequestered stations were recovered and the frequencies returned to ABS-CBN.

During that 13-year period, use of the corporation's frequencies (except DZXL-AM 620, awarded to KBS/RPN as DWWW, DZMM-AM 1000, awarded to GMA (later Nation Broadcasting Corporation) as DWXX (now DZAR Sonshine Radio), DZMY-AM 1160 awarded to BBC as DWWA, DZQL-AM 830, awarded to Office of Civil Defense as DZCA, and DZXL-TV 4, awarded to the government-owned National Media Production Center for the launch of Government Television as DWGT-TV in 1974) was awarded to the Banahaw Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) owned by Marcos crony and sugar plantation owner Roberto Benedicto and was launched on November 4, 1973. Under martial law, BBC formed a de facto media monopoly with Kanlaon Broadcasting System/Radio Philippines Network (KBS/RPN), Intercontinental Broadcasting Corporation (IBC, acquired in 1975), and government-owned Government Television/Maharlika Broadcasting System (GTV/MBS). The company's headquarters, the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Center, was also sequestered without compensation from the network's owners and was renamed as Broadcast Plaza to serve as headquarters of BBC, KBS/RPN, GTV/MBS and, from 1980, the Bureau of Broadcasts (BB).[41][42] Moreover, copies of the old pre-Martial Law ABS-CBN shows had also been lost due to the raid by Marcos troops.[43]

Marcos was eventually deposed by the People Power Revolution of February 1986. The newly created revolutionary government agency Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) sequestered and later dissolved BBC, and returned the frequencies to ABS-CBN in July 1986, eventually resuming broadcast on September 16, 1986.[44][45]

History

Early renewal initiatives during the 16th Congress

In 2014 and 2015, ABS-CBN requested the 16th Congress to tackle the extension of its franchise early, despite the fact that its renewal was not due until six years later, in 2020.[9]

Media sources in the legislature indicated that the network's 2016 initiative was the result of having been "particularly singled out" by supporters of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte because of the perception that they "consistently showed him in a negative light".[9] The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that a member of the House legislative franchise committee said ABS-CBN "did not want to risk going through the renewal under an 'unfriendly' administration".[113]

The Inquirer's source also said that the initiative "lacked support from President Benigno Aquino III's allies in the House" because they felt that ABS-CBN's criticisms against Aquino were "too personal and offensive and went to the point of nitpicking".[113][9]

ABS-CBN eventually had to withdraw these franchise renewal initiatives due to time constraints.[9]

Ad controversies during the 2016 Philippine presidential campaign

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attributed his objection to the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN to an election ad controversy during the campaign leading up to the 2016 Philippine presidential election. He said the network refused to air his 2016 presidential campaign ads and favored the negative political ads paid by then-vice presidential candidate Antonio Trillanes critical of his remarks on the campaign trail.[114][115]

On February 24, 2020, the network's president and chief executive officer Carlo Katigbak apologized to President Duterte for not airing his political advertisements during his 2016 polls. President Duterte accepted the apology, leaving the franchise's renewal to the Congress.[116][117] ABS-CBN also offered to return the money spent for these advertisements, which Duterte declined, stating that the money should be donated to a charity instead.[116]

Meanwhile, Commission on Elections spokesperson James Jimenez defended the controversial ad as being well within Election Law, under "Partisan Political Activity".[118][119]

Renewal initiatives during the 17th and 18th Congress

Non-renewal assertions by Duterte

Throughout his term, which coincides with the 17th and 18th Congress, President Duterte publicly reiterated that he will oppose the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN.[17][54]

Opposition lawmakers as well as labor groups objected to Duterte's stand on ABS-CBN as the franchise non-renewal will compromise the employees of the network; stating that the blocking of the franchise renewal had no merit.[120] Opposition groups have stated their opinions that the non-renewal of the franchise violates press freedom.[34]

The President later changed his stance after the network's apology, stating that he will not interfere with the franchise renewal in the Congress. However, the President did not say whether he will veto the bill or not.[116][117]

17th Congress

In November 2016, Nueva Ecija Representative Micaela Violago filed House Bill 4349 in the 17th Congress to renew the network's franchise.[121][122] The 17th Congress adjourned sine die with the bill never getting out of committee.[123]

Deliberations during the 18th Congress

During the 18th Congress of the Philippines, at least 12 house representatives and 2 senators filed their own versions for a new franchise of the network. House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano made assurances that the Congress will tackle the franchise with fairness.[124]

Bills filed in the 18th Congress for ABS-CBN's franchise renewal
Bill number Author/s Date filed Ref
HB 676 Micaela Violago July 1, 2019 [55]
HB 3064 Jericho Nograles July 29, 2019 [56]
HB 3521 Rose Marie "Baby" Arenas August 6, 2019 [57]
HB 3713 Joy Myra Tambunting, Joseph Stephen Paduano (withdrew on July 9, 2020) August 8, 2019 [58]
HB 3947 Sol Aragones August 14, 2019 [59]
SB 981 Ralph Recto August 28, 2019 [60]
HB 4305 Vilma Santos-Recto September 2, 2019 [61]
HB 5608 Aurelio Gonzales, Johnny Pimentel, Salvador "Doy" Leachon November 25, 2019 [63]
HB 5705 Rufus Rodriguez December 4, 2019 [66]
HB 5753 Josephine Ramirez-Sato December 9, 2019 [67]
HB 6052 Carlos Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite, Eufemia Cullamat, France Castro, Sarah Jane Elago January 27, 2020 [71]
HB 6138 Mark Go January 30, 2020 [72]
HB 6293 Loren Legarda February 13, 2020 [74]
SB 1403 Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. March 5, 2020 [86]

On January 6, 2020, Albay representative Edcel Lagman filed House Resolution 639, urging the House Committee on Legislative Franchises for its immediate action on the several bills lodged to the committee.[69] At least 91 other representatives signed the resolution.[70]

On February 24, 2020, the Congress finally made its decision to tackle their franchise renewal.[125] During a Senate hearing on the same day, public services panel chair Grace Poe stated they were to tackle ABS-CBN's compliance with the terms and conditions of its franchise.[126] The conclusion was that there was no breach of laws or franchise terms. The following is a summary of the findings:

  1. The Bureau of Internal Revenue stated that ABS-CBN had fully complied with the tax requirements of the government. Sir Cabantac Jr., BIR Large Taxpayers Service head stated that the company had paid P14.298 billion from 2016 to 2019. In 2019, ABS-CBN also settled P152.44 million in tax payments with the BIR.[127]
  2. The Department of Labor and Employment cleared the media giant for its compliance with general labor standards, occupational safety and health, and security of tenure. Former ABS-CBN corporate services head Mark Nepomuceno said they also have contributed to mandatory employee benefits such as Social Security System, PhilHealth, and Pag-IBIG Fund. He also stated that ABS-CBN was no longer practicing end-of-contract scheme, as well as giving benefits to independent contributors varying per contract negotiation[127]
  3. Telecommunications Commissioner General Gamaliel Cordoba stated that franchise laws cover "commercial purposes", including pay-per-view service. Section 1 of Republic Act 7908, which allows ABS-CBN Covergence's broadcast operations, states that: "It is hereby granted a franchise to construct, operate, and maintain, for commercial purposes." Even though ABS-CBN introduced the service without NTC guidelines yet, the fine for such violation is a measly P200. Senate President Recto stated that the NTC can just impose a fine on ABS-CBN rather than shutdown.[127]
  4. Securities and Exchange Commission Commissioner Ephyro Amatong clarified that a legal interpretation from 1999 stated that Philippine Depository Receipts were not equivalent to certificates of ownership, which may have evolved in recent years. Senator Poe pointed out that companies should be notified of any changes in the legal interpretation of the investment instrument, as all media companies have to be 100% Filipino-owned. Issuing PDRs is a common practice among Philippine media outfits—including Rappler and GMA. The SEC has not yet conducted a review whether there are violations in ABS-CBN's PDRs, with Amatong saying he "would rather not make a categorical statement at this time" as to whether there are violations in ABS-CBN's PDRs, given the pending case at the Supreme Court, as of May 6, 2020.[127]

Quo warranto petition

On February 10, 2020, Solicitor General of the Philippines Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court of the Philippines seeking to revoke ABS-CBN's franchise and that of its subsidiary ABS-CBN Convergence over alleged breaches of its franchise, including operating its pay-per-view service Kapamilya Box Office (KBO), constitutional restriction on foreign ownership of mass media, and resorted to an ingenious corporate layering scheme, in order to transfer its subsidiary's franchise without Congressional approval.[128] The network responded to disprove the allegations leveled against it.[129]

Within the same month, various congressmen urged the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to grant a provisional authority to ABS-CBN to continue operations after the lapse of its current franchise until Congress should have made a decision on its franchise application.[130] Having consulted with the Department of Justice (DOJ), the NTC affirmed in March 2020 that it would "likely" issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN and "let ABS-CBN continue operations based on equity".[131] However, the Federation of International Cable TV and Telecommunications Associations of the Philippines (FICTAP) questioned the provisional authority, stating that it would be unconstitutional.[132]

On June 23, 2020, the Supreme Court of the Philippines dismissed the quo warranto petition to revoke ABS-CBN Corporation's franchise, stating that the petition was moot and academic as the franchise already expired, therefore the Court would not be changing anything by voiding the franchise ab initio.[133] However, the quo warranto petition filed against ABS-CBN Convergence Inc. for allegedly illegally operating KBO[11] remains pending.[134]

Planned provisional authority cancellation

On March 5, 2020, lawyer Larry Gadon filed a petition for prohibiton before the Supreme Court of the Philippines, seeking to stop Telecommunications Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, and House Committee on Legislative Franchises Chairman Franz Alvarez from issuing ABS-CBN's provisional authority, saying the provisional authority to operate violates the doctrine of separation of powers.[135]

Sixteen days after the shutdown, Gadon announces that he is withdrawing the petition which he filed, seeking to stop Cordoba, Cayetano, and Alvarez from issuing provisional authority, stating that was rendered moot and the act sought to be prevented no longer exists.[136]

On June 2, 2020, the Supreme Court of the Philippines dismissed the petition for prohibition against Telecommunications Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, and House Committee on Legislative Franchises Chairman Franz Alvarez from issuing provisional authority, stating that the court does not deem it efficient.[137]

May 2020 broadcast stoppage

The sign-off message broadcast by DWWX-TV (ABS-CBN Manila) before stopping all broadcasts at 7:52 pm (PST) in compliance with the NTC order
The sign-off message broadcast by DWWX-TV (ABS-CBN Manila) before stopping all broadcasts at 7:52 pm (PST) in compliance with the NTC order
The logo of ABS-CBN during its 2020 shutdown
The logo of ABS-CBN during its 2020 shutdown

On May 3, 2020, Calida warned the NTC against granting the provisional authority to ABS-CBN, citing a Supreme Court decision in 2014, stating that provisional authority can only be granted after the franchise is secured in the Congress.[130][128] In the same statement, Calida cautioned that the agency would put itself at risk of prosecution under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act should they issue the provisional authority without a legal franchise being held by ABS-CBN's operating companies, and that a 1991 DOJ opinion stating the NTC may issue provisional authority without a legal franchise was overturned by the Supreme Court.[128]

On May 5, 2020, Philippine House Committee on Legislative Franchises chairperson Franz Alvarez warned the NTC from backtracking, if they did, the NTC can be held in contempt for refusal to issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN.[138] Six days before, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises issued a show cause order against NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, Deputy Commissioners Edgardo Cabarios, Delilah Deles, and Legal Branch Head Ella Blanca Lopez to explain why should not be cited in contempt for issuing the cease and desist order against ABS-CBN.[139] The NTC responded by stating that it was legally bound to order the shutdown of ABS-CBN and apologized to the House of Representatives for failing to notify it of the shutdown order.[140]

On the same day, NTC issued a cease and desist order to immediately close its free-to-air broadcasting operations, including its radio stations DZMM, S+A, and MOR Philippines, following the expiration of its broadcast franchise the day before.[141][142][143][144] The cease and desist order covers 42 free television stations operated by ABS-CBN across the country, including the main ABS-CBN Network, ten digital broadcast channels, 18 FM stations, and five AM stations. However, ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC), The Filipino Channel (TFC), DZMM TeleRadyo (renamed TeleRadyo due to the inclusion of DZMM in the order), and its sister cable channels (run by subsidiary Creative Programs including Metro Channel), as well as its online properties, and production companies Star Music and Star Cinema, were allowed to continue as their operations are not contingent on the legislative franchise.[145]

The network signed-off the air at 7:52 pm (PST) following the news program TV Patrol. ABS-CBN executives Carlo Katigbak and Mark Lopez aired statements on the program appealing the NTC's cease and desist order.[146][147] The newscast was also simulcast on DZMM, S+A, and MOR stations.[148] DZMM radio and television counterpart signed off at 8:20 pm, following SRO: Suhestyon, Reaksyon at Opinyon and rebranded simply as TeleRadyo following the newscast and the digital television networks available on ABS-CBN TV Plus including Asianovela Channel, Movie Central, and the terrestrial operations of Jeepney TV, Myx, O Shopping, and Knowledge Channel also signed off. Cine Mo!, Yey!, and KBO remain unaffected (during TV premiere of The Mall, The Merrier on KBO channel from May 1–6, 2020) after the cease and desist order.

Along with the order, NTC gave ABS-CBN 10 days to explain why its assigned frequencies should not be recalled.[149] In response on May 15, 2020, ABS-CBN reasoned that "it would be detrimental to the public interest as it would hamper the ability of ABS-CBN to immediately resume serving the public through its broadcasts, once the franchise is granted".[150] Additionally, House Bill 6732 was proposed by House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on May 13, 2020, which would have granted the network a provisional franchise to operate until October 31, 2020.[150][151] Subsequently, on May 27, 2020, NTC was told to refrain from carrying out the recall while the Congress deliberates on the measures to grant provisional franchise and a fresh franchise.[152]

Post-shutdown developments

Network programming and legal action

On May 7, 2020, ABS-CBN's flagship news program TV Patrol resumed broadcast on ABS-CBN News Channel, as it simulcast the program from the main network since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic programming changes.[153] It was also simulcast on its news website, its Facebook and YouTube pages, as well as on The Filipino Channel to viewers outside the country. On May 8, 2020, the following day TV Patrol began airing on Cine Mo! and returned on TeleRadyo.[154]

ABS-CBN Corporation filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition as well as temporary restraining order (TRO) to the Supreme Court of the Philippines, seeking to nullify the NTC's cease and desist order on May 7, 2020.[155] (See § Supreme Court case below.) The Senate and the House of the Representatives filed respective bills urging NTC to reconsider its order, as well as to abolish the agency itself.[156][157]

On May 8, 2020, DZMM TeleRadyo, now rebranded as simply TeleRadyo, resumed its regular programming airing the usual DZMM programming format.[158] TeleRadyo is carried through ABS-CBN TV Plus, making it one of three exclusive channels (the others being Cine Mo! and Yey!) that remain operational on digital free-to-air television after the NTC's order takes effect.[158] ABS-CBN later clarified in a statement that the three channels, along with Kapamilya Box Office channel, continued broadcasting and received in Metro Manila, Laguna province, Iloilo province, and selected areas of Baguio through a blocktime agreement with AMCARA Broadcasting Network (former owner of Studio 23 from its 1996 launch until ABS-CBN acquired a stake in AMCARA in 2010) owned by the Carandang family. On the same day, MOR Philippines also resumed its online and cable operations through a national programming service set up by the network's flagship station in Metro Manila.[159]

On May 11, 2020, House Representatives Paolo Duterte, Eric Go Yap, and Abraham Tolentino filed House Resolution No. 853, seeking to probe into the corporation's possible violation of its franchise.[160][161][162]

On June 1, 2020, Jeepney TV and Asianovela Channel resumed broadcasting on ABS-CBN TV Plus as temporary channel replacements for ABS-CBN and S+A, but both channels are still on free trial.[163]

On June 4, 2020, ABS-CBN announced on TV Patrol that a cable-and-satellite channel named Kapamilya Channel will launch on June 13, resuming the productions of ABS-CBN's dramas and live entertainment shows and airing its entertainment, educational and current affairs programming, along with temporary movie blocks.[164] However, because of the network's temporary suspension of production of entertainment programs during the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon caused by the COVID-19 pandemic (and later shutdown), the dramas Make It With You and Pamilya Ko confirmed their cancellations and failed to complete their respective stories.[165][166] Comedy gag show Banana Sundae would also not return to air.[167]

On June 30, 2020, the NTC and Solicitor General Jose Calida issued an alias cease-and-desist order demanding ABS-CBN TV Plus to further stop broadcasting all of its digital free-to-air channels on UHF Channel 43 in Metro Manila and some provinces, as well as Sky Direct to stop broadcasting nationwide.[12]

The Supreme Court initially set the date of tackling ABS-CBN's petition for a TRO on July 13,[168] however, it was moved to August 4.

Congressional hearings for a new franchise

On May 13, 2020, House Bill 6732 proposed by House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, which grants the network a provisional franchise to operate until October 31, 2020 "unless sooner revoked or cancelled", was approved by the House of Representatives convening as a Committee of the Whole. The said bill was awaiting for a third and final reading after which it would have been transmitted to the Senate;[151][169] but on May 19, 2020, the proposal was withdrawn with the chamber opting to go straight to hearing measures seeking to grant the media giant a fresh 25-year franchise.[170]

  • The first day of hearings was held on May 26, under the auspices of the Joint Committee for Legislative Franchises, Good Governance, and Public Accountability, where ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak and Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta gave their respective side's opening statements.[171]
  • The second day, held on June 1, tackled the media conglomerate's ownership concerns.[172]
  • The third day was held on June 3, mainly focused on Eugenio Lopez III's citizenship.[173]
  • The fourth hearing was held on June 8, which also focused on Lopez III's citizenship.[174] These first days of the hearings focused on Eugenio Lopez III dual citizenship status being a Filipino and an American citizen at the same time.
  • The fifth hearing was held on June 11, which tackled the legalities of ABS-CBN's issuance of PDRs or Philippine Depositary Receipts.[175] During the course of the hearing, the PDRs were determined to be legal but these raised questions on the real motives of the financial instrument.
  • The sixth hearing was held on June 15, tackled the media conglomerate's closure during Marcos regime and return to the Lopez family after the People Power Revolution in 1986.[176] Questions on the return to the Lopez family were raised in particular to the arbitrary procedure and the settlement agreement that were agreed upon.
  • The seventh hearing was held on June 17, which was attended by former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, tackled the constitutional 50-year limit on congressional franchises and airing of a program on DXAS-TV (ABS-CBN Davao) hosted by Duterte called Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa.[177]
  • The eighth hearing was held on June 29, tackled the network's blocktime agreement with AMCARA Broadcasting Network for continuous airing of the network's programs on free-to-air digital television through DWBM-TV (UHF Channel 43) in ABS-CBN TV Plus set-top box in Metro Manila, Laguna, selected areas of Baguio, and Iloilo.[178] During the hearings, questions were raised both to AMCARA and ABS-CBN on the seemingly long term block time arrangements.
  • The ninth hearing was held on June 30, tackled the media conglomerate's labor issues.[179] Questions were raised on program-based contracts and independent contractors which are prevalent in most broadcasting companies.[180]
  • The tenth hearing was held on July 1, tackled the media conglomerate's tax delinquencies.[citation needed] Questions were raised regarding the actual tax payments of ABS-CBN pointing out to government tax incentives that were availed.[citation needed]
  • The eleventh hearing was held on July 2, continuing the issues on taxes and labor practices.[citation needed]
  • The twelfth hearing was held on July 6, tackling allegations of biased reporting from the network and its coverage of the 2016 general election, and also tackled issues regarding bias and morality on some past ABS-CBN news and programs.[citation needed]
  • The thirteenth hearing which was a summation of arguments was held on July 9, with Representatives Carlos Zarate and Rodante Marcoleta respectively delivering the closing arguments for, and against the renewal.[citation needed]
  • On July 10, members of the House of Representatives, particularly the Committee on Legislative Franchises, voted 70–11 to deny the franchise application of ABS-CBN, citing several issues on the network's franchise.[5][1]

Supreme Court case

ABS-CBN Corporation v. National Telecommunications Commission
Seal of the Supreme Court of the Republic of the Philippines.svg
CourtSupreme Court of the Philippines
SubmittedMay 7, 2020
StartedMay 19, 2020
VerdictDismissed
CitationG.R. No. 252119
Questions presented
Is the ABS-CBN broadcast stoppage of "transcendental" constitutional importance? If so, was the NTC's CDO legal?

ABS-CBN Corporation v. National Telecommunications Commission (G.R. No. 252119) was a case before the Supreme Court of the Philippines. On May 7, 2020, ABS-CBN filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition asking the Court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the implementation of the National Telecommunications Commission's cease and desist order.[181][182] If granted, this TRO would allow them to operate until the case is decided.[183] However, some lawyers have questioned the legal merits of the petition,[182][184] as it was filed right to the Supreme Court, even before a motion for reconsideration before the NTC or a case in the Court of Appeals.[182] In the petition, ABS-CBN argues that it is proper to have filed first in the Supreme Court, as the case in their view involves "genuine issues of constitutionality that must be addressed at the most immediate time"[181]: 17  and that their petition is of "transcendental importance".[181]: 18  On May 18, Larry Gadon filed a motion for consolidation against the ABS-CBN's temporary restraining order, stating that it violates the hiearchy of the courts and the case must be filed at the CA.[185] The following day, the Court accepted the case, ordered the NTC to reply, and impleaded both the House and Senate and dismissing Gadon's plea for a consolidation.[186] The NTC filed its required comment on May 26.[187]

The Supreme Court set a further hearing for July 13 on the merits of the petition, though there may not be a ruling on that date.[188] However, the hearing was rescheduled to August 4, 2020.[189]

The petition to issue a temporary restraining order was dismissed by the Supreme Court on August 25, 2020.[190][191]

Recall of frequencies and channels

On September 10, 2020, the NTC issued an order recalling all TV and radio frequencies and channels assigned to ABS-CBN and its related radio and local TV stations. The NTC cited the absence of a "valid legislative franchise" as justification for the order. In addition, the NTC also said that all provisional authorities and certificates of public convenience granted to ABS-CBN were also revoked and cancelled.[192][193][194]

Blocktime deals and partnership agreements

ZOE Broadcasting Network

On October 6, 2020, ABS-CBN Corporation announced a blocktime deal with ZOE Broadcasting Network to air selected ABS-CBN shows from its owned television network on Channel 11's A2Z (formerly ZOE TV) beginning on October 10, after almost three years of speculated rumors. Alongside, the network would also air Light TV-produced programs, ZOE's content partners including CBN Asia and Trinity Broadcasting Network, and others including its blocktimers, licensors, and providers, similar to what GMA News TV (formerly QTV/Q and later GTV) has done before.[195][196]

A month of launching of the said new channel, the NTC were reportedly to investigate ABS-CBN and ZOE Broadcasting Network if the said blocktime agreement of two stations are processed in legal ways.[6][7]

Brightlight Productions and TV5/Cignal

On January 18, 2021, the Philippine Star's entertainment columnist Ricky Lo was reported that a possible partnership between ABS-CBN and its rival TV5 might happen very soon through its programming partner Cignal TV, which will allow ABS-CBN to air its programs on the rival network and its regional stations, aside from its existing agreement with ZOE Broadcasting Network (which only limited to Mega Manila area).[197] The partnership become evident when ABS-CBN's flagship Sunday variety show ASAP Natin 'To is reported to be carried on TV5 beginning January 24, replacing Sunday Noontime Live! (which was headlined by some ABS-CBN talents).[198] Both ABS-CBN and TV5 later confirmed this move in collaboration with Brightlight Productions and Cignal TV on January 21, with a movie block FPJ: Da King starring Fernando Poe Jr. also included in the Sunday's lineup.[199][200]

According to TV5 Network and Cignal TV chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan on the addition of more ABS-CBN shows on the network, he said that for now it is "too early" to consider for a said expansion,[201] that is until March 5 where ABS-CBN and TV5 confirmed that ABS-CBN Entertainment's primetime shows will be carried on the said network beginning March 8.[202]

House of Representatives votes on the franchise renewal

The following is a list of how members of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises voted.[203][204]

NO to the resolution denying the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise (11):[205]

YES to the resolution to deny the ABS-CBN franchise (77 - Note: Unofficial list compiled from various news sources. Congressmen refuse to release official list. According to Prof. Jean Franco, associate professor for the University of the Philippines Political Science Department, this translates to lack of transparency and accountability. Franco also stated that the congressmen may be hiding their votes out of fear of vendetta.):[206]

Recused from voting (2):

  • Alfred Vargas – Quezon City, 5th District, citing "conflict of interest."
  • Micaela Violago – Nueva Ecija, 2nd District

Abstained from voting (1):

2021 franchise approval initiatives

On December 8, 2020, Buhay Party-List Representative and Deputy Speaker Lito Atienza said that the approval of the ABS-CBN franchise might happen on 2021 under the House leadership of Lord Allan Velasco, as he assures the speaker to give some ample time to settle the franchise.[208] On January 4, 2021, Senate President Tito Sotto filed a Senate Bill No. 1967 that seeks to grant ABS-CBN's franchise for another 25 years,[209] with at least 16 senators backing its support for Sotto's bill.[210] Later that day, Batangas 6th District Representative and Deputy Speaker Vilma Santos-Recto, one of the 11 representatives who voted in favor of the franchise on July 10, 2020, said that she will refile her same franchise bill in the House,[211] which Santos-Recto filed a House Bill No. 8298 on January 18.[212] However, SAGIP Party-List Representative Rodante Marcoleta, one of the 70 representatives who voted against the franchise on July 10, 2020, and the host of Net 25's public affairs program, Sa Ganang Mamamayan (lit. For Citizens), reiterated that "major changes are needed" for the network to be able to regain its franchise.

On February 9, 2021, during his public address and an IATF meeting over government-owned People's Television Network, President Rodrigo Duterte said that he will not allow ABS-CBN to operate, even if a franchise was given to them by Congress, until they settle their taxes.[213][214] The following day, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, in his Malacañang virtual press briefing, said that Duterte would leave it to the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate ABS-CBN over alleged unpaid taxes and condonation of the network's soured loans.[215][216]

On February 11, 2021, House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said that ABS-CBN's franchise renewal will have to wait until 2022.[217][218]

Reactions, impacts, effects, and aftermath

Prior to broadcast stoppage

Before the expiration of the broadcast franchise, ABS-CBN talents and employees conducted weekly demonstrations in front of its headquarters in Quezon City as well as in its regional stations from January to February 2020.[219][220] During these demonstrations, presidential daughter and incumbent Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio expressed support for the franchise renewal.[221]

After the broadcast stoppage

Supporters of ABS-CBN staging a rally outside the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Center on the night of June 3, 2020.
Supporters of ABS-CBN staging a rally outside the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Center on the night of June 3, 2020.

The NTC's cease and desist order on ABS-CBN was met by widespread criticism by the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) (in which the network is one of its members),[222] as well as various advocacy groups,[223][224] business organizations,[225][226] the local Catholic church,[227][228][229] and even some members of the Congress. Several journalists and celebrities from the network and its rival GMA Network expressed solidarity with ABS-CBN after it was ordered to cease its radio and TV broadcast.[230][231] The hashtag #NoToABSCBNShutDown topped the local and worldwide Twitter trending lists the same day.[232]

Within a day, numerous colleges and universities in the Philippines, including the UPLB College of Development Communication, Ateneo de Manila University and its Communication Department, the University of Santo Tomas, St. Scholastica's College and its Mass Communication Department, De La Salle University, and the UP Diliman College of Mass Communication released statements supporting the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN.[233]

The network's shutdown was noted to have placed the job security of 11,000 ABS-CBN employees in jeopardy during the COVID-19 pandemic, though the company assured them stable salary, as well as complete health and financial benefits for the next 2 months following the shutdown.[8][11] In response, the government may give a 2-month aid to the employees of ABS-CBN.[234]

GMA Network's shares increased by 24% as the Philippine Stock Exchange voluntarily suspended ABS-CBN's trading. However, investors remained cautious on GMA's stock rally due to the effects of the shutdown on business confidence.[235][236]

President Duterte denied involvement with the network's shutdown,[237] despite earlier assertions that he will oppose franchise renewal.[17] His spokesman, Harry Roque, also thanked the network for its assistance to the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.[116][238] According to Roque, the president cannot mark the bill renewing ABS-CBN's franchise as urgent because it involves private interest, and that the president will be neutral to the renewal.[239]

On May 5, 2020, GMA Network's primetime news program 24 Oras interviewed the Federation of International Cable TV and Telecommunications Association of the Philippines (FICTAP) President Estrellita Juliano Tamano, who claimed that ABS-CBN violated their 1995 legislative broadcast by airing six channels. She argued that ABS-CBN should be instead broadcasting in one channel only and instead file for a new franchise for every channel they broadcast.[240][241]

On May 7, 2020, Philippine Cable and Telecommunications Association Inc (PCTA) President Ronaldo Manlapig argued that there is no need to file for a separate franchise for each channel as ABS-CBN is using digital transmission through their frequency, hence the multiple channels.[242][243]

Public criticism in the early days after the shutdown revolved around the NTC, for lack of fairness on the agency's cease and desist order on the network, and Congress – especially the lower house – for inaction to pass the franchise renewal bill.[244][245]

ABS-CBN's shutdown received international attention as news websites, magazines, newspapers, and broadcasters from around the world including The New York Times,[11] The Washington Post,[8] Variety,[246] BBC News,[16] CBS News,[247] Time,[10] Al Jazeera,[144] The Guardian,[248] the Associated Press,[249] ABC News,[250] NHK,[251][252] KBS,[253] Yonhap News Agency,[254] the Financial Times,[255] and The Straits Times[256] published stories on the network's shutdown.[257]

The discontinuation of ABS-CBN's terrestrial broadcast operations created difficulties during the onslaught of Typhoon Vongfong (Ambo), when authorities and residents of some distant provinces, including Aurora, Quezon, and Sorsogon, reported being unable to get updated information about the typhoon from other sources, because ABS-CBN was the only national television station whose signal could reach them, and internet data was hard to get in their area.[258][259]

On June 4, 2020, it was announced that Kapamilya Channel will air programs from ABS-CBN such as Ang Probinsyano and ASAP Natin 'To beginning June 13, 2020, on cable and satellite TV providers nationwide.[260]

After the committee vote

Some members of Congress expressed dismay over the decision, including Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez who called the denial "defying evidence".[261] Progressive and sectoral groups in the Philippines such as Akbayan, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, and Pamalakaya also slammed the body for the vote.[262] However, on July 13, 2020, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano stood by the decision to deny the network its franchise.

Supporters conducting a nightly noise barrage in front of the ABS-CBN headquarters, with ABS-CBN artist Angel Locsin speaking in front
Supporters conducting a nightly noise barrage in front of the ABS-CBN headquarters, with ABS-CBN artist Angel Locsin speaking in front

From July 11 until the end of the month, supporters organized a nightly noise barrage in front of the ABS-CBN studios in Quezon City in opposition to the verdict. Other similarly styled demonstrations were held in front of respective ABS-CBN stations in Davao City, Bacolod City, and Naga City.[263][264] On July 26, demonstrations in Cagayan de Oro City were marred after three funeral wreaths containing ribbons glorifying the New People's Army were left by unidentified individuals in front of the ABS-CBN station in the city. National Union of Journalists of the Philippines Western Mindanao Safety Officer JB Deveza called such action "a form of death threat" aimed to intimidate the network employees and the action appeared to be a part of a coordinated red-tagging operation.[265]

On July 16, a movement named People's Initiative for Reforms and Movement for Action (PIRMA), an independent and organic collective of concerned Filipinos moving to advance reforms via people's initiative and referendum, launched a signature campaign called "PIRMA Kapamilya" that aims to grant ABS-CBN a people's franchise via democratic experiment of a people's initiative.[266] The signature campaign started on July 25 and aims to gather 7 million signatures nationwide (3% of registered voters in each legislative district and at least 10% of total registered voters) as a requirement for the COMELEC to call for a referendum on the franchise.[267]

In a related manner, Kantar Media Philippines (ABS-CBN's main client and partner) originally announced the closure of its television ratings service by the end of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the broadcast stoppage of ABS-CBN,[268] however, the decision was reversed following the blocktime deal between ABS-CBN and ZOE, as well as retaining the majority of its existing staff.[269]

In a related manner, boxing promotion company ALA Promotions (promoted the Pinoy Pride series of bouts aired on ABS-CBN and its sister network, S+A) announced its closure on August 18, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the broadcast stoppage of ABS-CBN, while its gym division ALA Gym remained operational.[270][271][272][273][274][275]

Cessations and retrenchments

On July 15, ABS-CBN released a statement that it would lay off a number of its workers and close down some of its business operations in light of the denial of the franchise effective August 31.[276]

According to a town-hall meeting called by management hours before the release of the statement, among the first entities bound to close were:

Other company divisions that announced their respective dissolution and reduction of workforces prior to or beyond the July 15 announcement and the August 31 take effect, unless otherwise noted were:

As of December 31, 2020, there were about 5,932 employees and workers that were displaced, retrenched, or laid-off by the company itself, according to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). Among the notable ones were:[294][295]

Long-term impacts

Information gaps during the wall-to-wall media coverage of typhoons (tropical cyclones) that occurred in the 4th quarter of 2020 and 3rd quarter of 2021, particularly Typhoon Molave (Quinta), Typhoon Goni (Rolly), Typhoon Vamco (Ulysses), Tropical Storm Choi-wan (Dante) and Typhoon In-fa (Fabian) in some parts of the country including Cagayan Valley (especially the ensuing widespread floods), Bicol Region, South Cotabato, parts of Davao Region, Benguet, Cavite and parts of Central Luzon and Ilocos Region, were attributed to the ABS-CBN shutdown, with reports noting the void left by the closure of its provincial news bureaus and lack of a strong signal reach in provinces far from Manila.[296][297][298]

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, however, disagreed with netizens claiming that the shutdown of ABS-CBN exposed “information gaps” in calamities such as Super Typhoon Rolly. Responding to a question, Roque said both private and government media are doing their best in providing news updates to keep the public informed.[299][300][301][302][303]

Roque also vehemently refuted the claim of Vice President Leni Robredo that the absence of ABS-CBN's regional unit left some residents in the dark. Roque said his team has been holding public briefings to update Filipinos about the national situation amid recent calamities.[304]

See also

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This page was last edited on 26 November 2021, at 05:42
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