Several religious leaders slammed the decision of the House of Representatives to reject the franchise renewal application of Philippine television network ABS-CBN.
One Catholic bishop described the decision that can lead to the closure of the broadcast network as “a great loss to all Filipinos.”
“No one wins. It is just an added suffering to all of us. No one can rejoice,” said Bishop Ruperto Santos of the Diocese of Balanga.
The prelate noted that hundreds of the network’s workers will have to look for jobs “amidst the pandemic when companies cannot open and are even closing down.”
Bishop Santos, who heads the commission on migrants of the bishops’ conference, said ABS-CBN has been helping Filipino migrant workers through its global channel TFC.
He said that by closing down the network the legislators are denying migrant workers a source of joy and information while suffering in foreign lands.
The prelate said shutting down the television giant amid the pandemic also causes “uncertainty to our present situation, pain, and problems in the near future.”
He said the country’s legislators “should have been more considerate, more compassionate, and charitable especially now that the country is facing a difficult and devastating time.”
Bishop Arturo Bastes, retired prelate of Sorsogon, said the decision of Congress was “shameful” and “wrong.”
“Despite the opinion of many government agencies and civic groups that the franchise of ABS-CBN should be renewed … the lawmakers are stubbornly following the whims of [the executive department],” he said.
Philippine legislators on July 10 rejected the bid of broadcast network ABS-CBN for a franchise to operate.
The network is officially shutting down after 70 members of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises voted to adopt a resolution rejecting the media company’s application.
The decision came following four years of repeated allegations made by President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies that ABS-CBN played partisan politics during the 2016 presidential elections.
Duterte: ‘You’re out’
In December 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte warned that the network will definitely be “out” as its franchise is set to expire in May this year.
“Your franchise will end next year. If you are expecting a renewal, I’m sorry. You’re out. I will see to it that you’re out,” said the president.
In its decision, the congressional body said that “by no means the franchise application is related to press freedom,” adding that “it is what it is — a denial of a privilege granted by the State.”
The congressional body, which spent 12 hearing days of discussions on ABS-CBN’s application, said “the applicant was seen as undeserving of the grant of a legislative franchise.”
Various groups, including faith-based organizations have earlier expressed support for the renewal of the broadcast network’s franchise.
Bishop Bastes said that with the decision the government created “fearful incidents that might lead to a political crisis.”
“There are limits to the silent tolerance of the suffering masses,” he said. “Duterte and his cohorts should see some omen being written on the wall.”
Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos said the public, especially those who are affected with the closure of the media giant, must “refuse to lose hope.”
“God, side by side with a more awakened and united people, can still draw out something good from this continuing and painful disregard of our common good by the very public servant we put out trust to promote and safeguard it,” he said.
Religious superiors ‘indignant’
The Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines said it is “saddened” and “indignant” over the decision.
The influential group of religious superiors said the “disgraceful act is nothing more than a brazen display of [traditional politician] power.”
They described the decision of Congress as a “blow to the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press and the people’s right to receive information on matters of public concern.”
“We affirm that the issue of the franchise renewal is not merely an issue of renewing the franchise permit of ABS-CBN, but more so, it is an issue of upholding the fundamental right of press freedom and access to information by the people,” read the group’s statement.
The religious superiors reminded government officials that “those who lust for absolute power will eventually have their day of reckoning.”
“Those who put their interests above that of the people who voted for them will eventually be thrown in the dustbin of history,” it added.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan said he was disappointed by the decision of the legislators.
The prelate said that although the matter of the franchise is a legislative prerogative, Catholic faith dictates that “power must always be ordered towards the common good.”
“Now, Filipinos are deprived of one source of information in the eye of the pandemic storm … another channel of free expression is killed as if we have not killed enough of our countrymen,” said the Archbishop Villegas.
“When are we going to start acting to make our prayers happen?” he asked. “God doesn’t sleep, and so our Christianity must not sleep at any time, at any circumstance,” added the prelate.
Mark Saludes and Marielle Lucenio contributed to this report.