Lagman scorecard: It’s 8-0 sweep in favor of ABS-CBN’s franchise
MANILA, Philippines — For Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman, media giant ABS-CBN should be granted a 25-year franchise as his scorecard shows an 8-0 sweep in favor of the network with regard to the issues hounding its franchise application.
Lagman said this Wednesday after 12 hearings have been held to discuss various issues hounding ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal bid such as the citizenship of the network’s chair emeritus Gabby Lopez, the Lopez family’s reclamation of the network after the EDSA Revolution, involvement in alleged labor violations as well as tax-related issues, and the alleged political bias of the network, among others.
“My scorecard shows an 8-0 sweep of the major issues in favor of ABS-CBN Corporation’s franchise renewal,” Lagman said in a statement, referring to the eight issues lodged against the embattled media giant.
“This is my personal assessment of the outcome of the lengthy and grueling hearings conducted by the joint committees on legislative franchises and good government. Verily, based on the merits, ABS-CBN Corporation rightly deserves a renewal of its franchise. Its ordeal must be ended and its franchise renewed,” the lawmaker added.
Alleged media bias
The last—and arguably the most controversial—topic discussed by the joint House committees handling the ABS-CBN franchise is the alleged media bias of ABS-CBN.
However, Lagman said that the issue of ABS-CBN’s alleged biased reporting and meddling in politics should be “non-issues because critical commentary, reasonable preference, and even incidental bias of TV and radio networks are fully protected by the expansive veil of freedom of the press and free speech.”
“Moreover, aside from providing the public with information, public service, and entertainment, a broadcasting network is a catalyst for the formation of differing opinions. Therefore, it must be proactive, not passive or timid,” Lagman said.
Further, Lagman said that ABS-CBN is allowed to “meddle in politics” particularly during the campaign period “in which the freedom of the press strengthens the right of suffrage by maximizing the electorate’s access to varied kinds of information and propaganda.”
Lagman cited ABS-CBN v. COMELEC in 2000 where the Supreme Court ruled that “the freedoms of speech and of the press should all the more be upheld when what is sought to be curtailed is the dissemination of information meant to add meaning to the equally vital right of suffrage.”
Moreover, Lagman said ABS-CBN’s franchise only enjoins the network “not (to) use its stations for the broadcasting of obscene and indecent language, speech, act or scene, or the dissemination of deliberately false information or willful misrepresentation to the detriment of the public interest, or to incite, encourage, or assist in subversive or treasonable acts.”
“Furthermore, the Fair Election Act does not enforce a policy of neutrality on media outlets and neither does it prohibit them from advocating preferences as long as rival parties and candidates are afforded equal time, space and the opportunity to reply,” Lagman said.
“Enforced neutrality is anathema to freedom of the press which allows the broadcast of differing and antagonistic views,” the lawmaker added.
Gabby Lopez’ citizenship and reclamation of ABS-CBN
Lagman said Lopez is a dual citizen since he was born in the United States which adopts the principle of jus soli or citizenship by birth.
Lopez, however, is still a natural-born Filipino citizen because of his birth parents, said Lagman.
“With respect to the 100% Filipino capitalization and management of mass media, the Constitution does not distinguish between a Filipino of single citizenship and a Filipino with dual citizenship. We must not also distinguish,” Lagman said.
The lawmaker likewise noted that the Lopez family “lawfully and deservedly” reacquired ABS-CBN “after it was illegally confiscated and its facilities used without compensation during the martial law regime.”
Lagman added that the Lopez family’s reclamation of the network was authorized by legal issuances from the Office of the President, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), and the Supreme Court.
Issuance of PDRs and tax-related issues
Lagman also defended ABS-CBN’s issuance of Philippine Deposit Receipts (PDRs) refers to instruments of investment and not a transfer of stock ownership or participation in management.
“The constitutional requirement of 100% Filipino capitalization and ownership of mass media is not violated by such PDRs,” Lagman said.
50-year franchise cap
Lagman also maintained that firms operating for more than 50 years are not disqualified from being granted a new franchise.
The lawmaker explained that the 50-year limitation in the Constitution for a legislative franchise only means that there must be a cap of not more than 50 years for each franchise that the Congress can issue at a time
“There is no constitutional provision or statute which prohibits the renewal or grant of legislative franchises to corporations which have been in operation for more than half a century. These time-tested corporations have achieved adequate experience and relevant expertise, aside from having invested millions of pesos in their businesses,” Lagman said.
“Corporations, like wine, become better due to the passage of time. The Constitution did not envision or intend that the badge of inutility must attach to corporations which have reached the golden age,” the lawmaker added.
Labor issues and TV Plus
Lagman likewise sided with ABS-CBN with regard to the issue of ABS-CBN’s alleged labor violations.
The lawmaker said that hearings showed that ABS-CBN “has complied with labor decisions which may have become final and executory, and will abide with other decisions of labor and judicial tribunals which will subsequently become final and executory.”
The labor issue, Lagman said, would be the displacement of ABS-CBN’s 11,000 employees as a result of the non-renewal of its franchise.
“Neither did its expired franchise nor any law prohibit ABS-CBN’s offering of pay-per-view services,” Lagman said.
Palawan 1st District Rep. Franz Alvarez, the chairperson of the House committee on legislative franchise, told INQUIRER.net that there is no schedule yet on whether or not ABS-CBN’s franchise application will pass the House’s committee level.
Alvarez said arguments on various issues related to ABS-CBN’s franchise bid still have to be summarized before lawmakers could vote.
While the hearings were jointly conducted by the two House panels, only the 46 members of the legislative franchise committee, as well as the 44 House officials who are considered ex officio members, will be able to vote.
If the lawmakers’ vote will be for the franchise renewal, ABS-CBN’s application will be up for discussion in the plenary.
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