It is not just an issue of press freedom. Thousands of workers may lose their jobs should President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat not to renew the franchise of a media giant follows through.
Duterte has been targeting the franchise of ABS-CBN since 2017 following accusations that the broadcast network did not air his political advertisements during the 2016 presidential campaign.
He made the threat anew following his rant against water concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad last December 4, citing the Lopez family, the network’s owners, in his outburst.
“ABS-CBN has been a protector of your vested interest,” he said.
“Your franchise will expire next year. If you are expecting it to be renewed, I’m sorry. You’re out,” he added.
ABS-CBN’s franchise by Republic Act 7966 is set to expire in 2020. If the bill seeking to renew this is not signed into law soon, ABS-CBN would have to shut down its operations in radio and television.
Thousands of workers will lose their jobs, advocacy group Defend Job Philippines said, and urged Duterte and government officials to consider the renewal for their sake.
“Politics and personal ires of our politicians must be set aside for the sake of the looming loss of employment and livelihood of the Filipino working force. Our workers must not be hostaged and victimized of any political actions of the government,” said Christian Lloyd Magsoy, spokesperson of Defend Job Philippines.
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The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines likewise stressed the number of people who depend on ABS-CBN’s programs for their livelihood.
“Between 10,000 to 11,000 who depend on the Philippines’ largest television network and its subsidiaries/sister companies including ABS-CBN.com, dzMM, TFC, Star Records, to name a few, for their bread and butter, will immediately lose their jobs or will indirectly be dislocated once its franchise is denied,” the NUJP said.
“Do not allow one man’s vindictiveness displace thousands of workers, including journalists and artists, and spell the end for freedom of the press and of expression,” it added.
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New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, said that what Duterte is doing is a form of exploitation.
Carlos Conde, the group’s researcher for the Philippines, said Duterte has harbored a grudge at the media company for two reasons—the network’s critical reportage of his bloody drug war and the Lopez family’s past as activists during the Marcos era.
Duterte had aligned with the Marcos family since the last national elections.
ABS-CBN currently employs 6,730 regular employees, 900 non-regular workers and more than 3,325 talents since the end of 2018, according to the company’s report to the Securities and Exchange Commission and Philippine Stocks Exchange as cited by Defend Job Philippines.
ABS-CBN’s current franchise had been granted provided by the approval of Republic Act 7966 on March 30, 1995, wherein:
“The ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation, hereunder referred to as the grantee, its successors or assigns, is hereby granted a franchise to construct, operate and maintain, for commercial purposes and in the public interest, television and radio broadcasting stations in and throughout the Philippines.”
The term of the franchise is only for 25 years and therefore, will expire in 2020. Five bills have been filed to extend this for another 25 years.
Unfortunately, Rep. Franz Alvarez (Palawan), chair of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, previously said that Congress can no longer act on these bills before they adjourn for the Christmas break on December 20.
In March 2017, Duterte lashed out against ABS-CBN and the Philippine Daily Inquirer for being “rude” in their news reporting.
Then, in April of the same year, he claimed that the media group accepted payment for the airing of his ad campaign but failed to air it. He said he will urge Congress to block ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal.