Philippine bishops and a lay Catholic group have issued statements calling on lawmakers to renew the franchise of the ABS-CBN Corporation, Philippines’ biggest broadcasting network, at a hearing scheduled for July 6. ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal application has been pending in the House of Representatives after the old one expired on May 4. Under Philippine law, only Congress can grant, amend, extend or revoke franchises, including franchises of media and broadcast corporations. President Rodrigo Duterte earlier said the Lower House would not grant the network a new franchise for allegedly pocketing his campaign funds without airing his political broadcasts during the 2016 presidential election. Philippine prelates and a lay group, however, have backed the broadcaster, saying it provided balanced views and reporting.
“I am calling on congressmen who will vote on ABS-CBN's franchise to realize that the people need the network, especially now that they need news and entertainment in this time of community quarantine due to the pandemic,” Manila's apostolic administrator, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, said in a statement. He also said that lawmakers should not use their political position for the whims of the powerful but for the common good. “We are asking lawmakers to decide for the greater good and not pander to the political agenda of those in power. Lawmakers should stand by their duty to the nation and not to its leaders,” he added. Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan had allowed the tolling of church bells in his diocese 15 minutes before the start of the congressional hearing to signify prayer and support for the network. Church bells traditionally ring to call worshipers to prayer as well as to signify a new beginning. This time they would mean prayers for lawmakers to defend freedom of expression and to fight for independent journalism. Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao also promised Masses in his diocese in support of the network. A Catholic bishops-laymen group has also issued a statement for lawmakers to grant ABS-CBN a new franchise. The Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development said the issue further causes divisions in society. “We point out the divisiveness of his latest threat to press freedom, coming as it does on the heels of the signing into law of the even more divisive Anti-Terrorism Act, sowing disunity at a time when the country can least afford it,” said the group in a statement. The group appealed to lawmakers to do what was right for the sake of the nation. “We articulate this [ABS-CBN’s franchise grant] as a matter of conscience, not just for the nation, but for the lawmakers.” ABS-CBN has 11,000 employees whose jobs have been endangered due its possible shutdown if lawmakers decide not to grant the network another franchise.
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