The protracted hearings conducted by the Committees on Legislative Franchises and Good Government followed a foregone conclusion, and despite ABS-CBN surviving the grueling legislative inquisition, it was slain at the end of the show with premeditation and abuse of superiority in numbers as aggravating circumstances.
The Technical Working Group (TWG) was part of the charade.
While reasonable dispatch in the accomplishment of the work of a TWG is laudable, inordinate alacrity is suspect like in the case of the TWG which recommended the denial of the application of ABS-CBN Corporation for a franchise renewal in less than 24 hours after it was formed and despite the fact that it had to review more than 100 hours of hearings, voluminous documents and records, as well as major contentious issues.
The plight of the embattled network is mercifully over except for the herd voting where the dictates of partisanship would prevail over the demands of merit.
The pretense of the Speaker for a “conscience vote” was unmasked by his own closing statement at the end of the hearings which was a virtual final summation for the “antis” rooting for the denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal.
The Speaker blasted “big business” like ABS-CBN for purportedly meddling in politics and supporting favored candidates.
In his closing remarks, the Speaker said: “We will all agree on the basic premise that big business, conjoined with commercial media, should not be allowed to engage in partisan politics by wielding its power to protect their interest, meddle and interfere in elections, and surreptitiously support certain candidates in the guise of reporting the news.”
ABS-CBN grew in time as “big business” because it was continuously supported by Filipinos and ABS-CBN paid back the Filipinos in admirable public service.
No less than the Fair Election Act encourages television and radio networks to participate or “meddle” in politics to the extent of broadcasting negative advertisement, provided the rival candidates or parties are afforded equal time and the opportunity to reply.
In fact, it is during the election campaign that the freedom of the press is accorded primacy in strengthening the right of suffrage by giving the electorate maximum access to political and partisan propaganda. (ABS-CBN v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 133486, January 28, 2000).
The Fair Election Act does not enforce neutrality on mass media because to impose neutrality is anathema to freedom of the press.
The result of the voting would show the hand of the Speaker wherein regular and voting ex-officio members of the Committee on Legislative Franchises, over whom the Speaker has overriding influence, are expected to vote for the rejection of the franchise renewal as they would refuse to see that the facts and the law indubitably in favor of ABS-CBN.
Any alleged violation of ABS-CBN of its franchise must be delimited and assessed under Section 4 of R.A. 7699 on its responsibility to the public, Sec. 8 on the tax provision and Sec. 9 on self-regulation.
Not one of these sections was proved to have been violated by ABS-CBN.
EDCEL C. LAGMAN