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What ‘conscience vote’?

As you read this, Reader, we should know the decision of the House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Franchises regarding the ABS-CBN franchise renewal.

Assuming everything goes on schedule. But I write this column on Thursday evening, after the congressional hearings (there were 12 averaging 9 hours each), and the summations. We were treated to speeches by the Speaker of the House (Alan Peter Cayetano) and the Majority Leader (Martin Romualdez), before the main event, which were the summations by Rep. Carlos Zarate (for) and Rep. Rodante Marcoleta (against).

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As of Thursday night, what are the chances of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal? Based on what’s been going on, I give it a one-in-ten chance: It will be approved if the congressmen vote their conscience, but given the current political circumstances, that is very slim. The only reason it is still alive is that people have been praying for them, and I believe in the efficacy of prayer.

If it squeaks through the committee, it will perhaps have a much better chance of getting through the plenary.

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Why the 99 percent probability of nonrenewal in the committee? The answer, dear Reader, is pure and simple: Because President Duterte doesn’t want it renewed. But we knew that from the beginning, so why the 12 hearings, and the summations?

Let’s hear it from Speaker Cayetano: The hearings were conducted in order to give the congressmen and the general public a chance to make up their minds pro or con, or change their minds, based on the information received.

But, as the Speaker also said from Jeremiah (17:9), “The heart is deceitful above all things. Who can understand it?” So I stick to my forecast. Their mind was already made up. As for convincing the general public, the evidence I can gather says that whereas a great majority of the people were in favor of an ABS-CBN franchise renewal during the beginning of the hearings—unfortunately, I can’t put my hands on the survey—the latest evidence is that 92 percent of the respondents now are in favor.

That’s overwhelming. Vox populi.

So, if the franchise committee and 46 other ex-officio members (for a total of 92 or 93), and later on, the House plenary decide against the renewal, they are essentially thumbing their noses at their bosses: the people. And one cannot say the people are not well informed, after 108 hours of hearings. But then again, the assumption that the congresspersons represent their constituents may not be accurate.

Their real boss may be those with the purse strings. And if scuttlebutt is to be believed, Paolo Duterte and the Iglesia ni Cristo have been very busy trying to influence those votes.

The question: Why do the people overwhelmingly support the extension of ABS-CBN’s franchise? For the original majority who expressed their support, it must have been because ABS-CBN has served them well, for whatever reason. For the increase in support to 92 percent, it must have been because they were convinced by what they heard in Congress.

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I agree with them. Zarate summarized it excellently. He itemized all the charges leveled against ABS-CBN: the citizenship issue, the Philippine Depositary Receipts, the tax evasion, the facilities that ABS-CBN took over from the government, the campaign bias issue, the labor issue, and even the tax shields issue.

All these, he pointed out, had been resolved by relevant government agencies in favor of ABS-CBN: the Bureau of Immigration, the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Comelec, the Department of Labor and Employment, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority. These found no erroneous behavior on the part of ABS-CBN.

Marcoleta brought up the citizenship issue, as if it had not been resolved. More significantly, he said that these government agencies were not the judge of whether ABS-CBN should be granted a franchise, it was Congress. Of course, Representative Marcoleta, but their judgment must be based on facts, as verified by these agencies, not on your emotions and speculations.

On its merits, ABS-CBN should have been granted this franchise renewal within hours or within days, the way other franchise seekers are treated. Congress obviously is not going to vote their “conscience.” Maybe they have none.

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TAGS: ABS-CBN, franchise hearing, franchise renewal, House, Kapamilya
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