Philippine Catholics fear silencing of 54 radio stations

Government has failed to renew church's license application to run a nationwide network of broadcasters
Philippine Catholics fear silencing of 54 radio stations

At least 54 radio stations under the country's Catholic Media Network will be affected by the government's failure to renew its operating license application before the last one expired on Aug. 7. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

The Philippines House of Representatives has failed to renew the license of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to operate dozens of radio stations across the country.

An application to renew the license was lodged in January as the previous one expired on Aug. 7.  The application, which sought the extension of the license, or franchise, for another 25 years, remains stuck at the committee level of the Lower House of Congress.

Philippine law requires radio and television networks to have a franchise, which is granted through legislation by Congress, to be able to operate.

The franchise granted to the CBCP was last renewed in 1992.

At least 54 radio stations under the country's Catholic Media Network (CMN) will be affected by the failure of the renewal of the franchise this year.

The CMN-affiliated radio stations' broadcasts reach 11 regions and 35 provinces of the country. It is the largest broadcaster in the Philippines in terms of the total number of stations and transmitting power per station.

Radyo Veritas, a radio station operated by the Manila Archdiocese, has a separate franchise that was renewed during the previous administration.

Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the public affairs committee of the bishops' conference, said he is not discounting politics as the reason for the failure of the franchise renewal, especially because Catholic Church leaders have been vocal in criticizing President Rodrigo Duterte.

"It's sad that politics could get in the way of our democratic processes," said the priest, adding that "it may be one reason why Congress didn't renew the franchise."

Father Secillano, however, said the real losers were the people who relied on the service.

"It's the voice of the people and our search for truth that's being undermined by Congress," said the priest.

Last week, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, an ally of Duterte in Congress, called the CBCP "thick faced" for criticizing the government.

Congressman Franz Alvarez, chairman of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, said the inaction on the CBCP's application was due to the number of applications the legislative body had to attend to and it was "still awaiting hearing."

"The extension of the CBCP legislative franchise holds great significance for the CBCP as the official organization of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the Philippines," read the proposed legislation.

It noted that the bishops' conference is responsible for "the propagation of various apostolate, charity works, value formation and good governance and the promotion of good news of God through Catholic doctrines, good values and good virtues for the benefit and goodness of the Philippines as a nation."

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The bill added that by using radio and television, the Catholic bishops were able to bring to the Filipino people major news events including natural disasters, the so-called people power revolutions of 1986 and 2000, and the visit to the country of various church leaders.

Despite the non-renewal of its franchise, several Catholic radio stations continue to operate.

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