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Church decries Philippines shutting down biggest broadcaster

President Rodrigo Duterte threatened last year that the media network would go off air for not supporting him

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Church decries Philippines shutting down biggest broadcaster

Employees and supporters of local television network ABS-CBN hold placards as they protest in front of the House of Representatives in Manila on July 10, 2020.  (Photo: Miggy Hilario/AFP)

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Catholic leaders in the Philippines have decried the lawmakers shutting down the country's biggest broadcasting network, calling it an attack on press freedom.

Philippine Congress' Committee on Legislative Franchises voted on July 10 to deny the franchise renewal application of ABS-CBN Corporation, Philippines' biggest broadcasting network.

"The heavens now weep for this blow to the Constitutional guarantee of the freedom of the press," said a statement of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines. The move also violates people's right to receive information from the sources they trust, it said.

The 25-year-old network's application has been pending in the House of Representatives after the previous one expired on May 4. Under the Philippine law, only Congress can extend, renew or revoke franchises, including franchises of media and broadcast corporations.

The lawmakers voted 70 to 11, denying the renewal of the franchise, which left 11,000 employees of the media network jobless.

Catholic leaders in the country, including the bishops and lay groups, have been requesting the Congress to renew the license of the network. However, President Rodrigo Duterte has been against it for political reasons.

In 2019, President Duterte threatened the media network that it would go off air for not supporting him during the 2016 presidential elections.

"You, ABS-CBN, your franchise will end next year. If you are expecting that it will be renewed, I'm sorry. You're out. I will see that you are out," said Duterte on national television.

The Major Religious Superiors said the Congress' "disgraceful act is nothing more than a brazen display of power!"

"We salute the eleven lawmakers who stood up until the end in defending not only the franchise renewal but most importantly the hard-won democratic right of press freedom forcibly taken away during the dark era of Martial Law," it said.

The Religious were appalled by the way financial allegations were made against ABS-CBN, said the statement signed by Capuchin Father Cielito R Almazan and Sister Marilyn A Java.

But the franchise was denied despite several government agencies clearing the allegations, they noted.

Manila apostolic administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo had told lawmakers to make a decision based on the common good rather than on the political agenda of those in power.

Bishop Pabillo had also urged Congress to use their position, not as a "political tool" to control the media.

Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao had also included the network's intention in all parish masses in the diocese. In contrast, Kalookan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David had tolled church bells in his diocese in support of the network.

The Religious said the closure of the media network denies the village poor a channel to have news and render some 11,000 people unemployed. "But most importantly, who will benefit from this closure?" it said.

It "is an issue of upholding the fundamental right of press freedom and access to information by the people. This is also an issue of the right to job security of the thousands of workers," they added.

ABS-CBN's president and chief executive officer Carlo Katigbak thanked supporters and said they considered public service and independent journalism their primary mission.

"You are our reason for our being. If you believe our service is important and valuable, and if you believe that ABS-CBN is deserving to continue providing that service, please let your thoughts and feelings be heard," Katigbak said. 

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