By John Ezekiel J. Hirro

After 12 tedious hearings, House lawmakers on Friday voted to deny media giant ABS-CBN Corp.’s bid for a new 25-year broadcasting franchise.

The House Committee on Legislative Franchises voted 70-11, with two inhibitions and one abstention.

“By no means can this franchise application be related to press freedom,” the technical working group that prepared the resolution denying ABS-CBN’s franchise bid claimed.

The order of broadcast regulators to shut down ABS-CBN on May 5 due to an expired franchise was widely condemned by local and international groups as a blatant attack on free speech and the press.

ABS-CBN first sought a new franchise way back in 2014. The application was delayed amid President Rodrigo Duterte attacks on the Lopez-owned network’s news coverage.

He also accused it in 2016 of refusing to air his campaign ad despite accepting P6.6 million in payment, and vowed to block ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal in December.

Malacañang claimed Duterte became neutral on the ABS-CBN issue after ABS-CBN President Carlo Katigbak apologized for airing a TV advertisement showing Duterte cursing and children asking about Duterte’s decency.

This marks only the second time in history that the broadcast giant was shut down by the government.

The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, during Martial Law, ordered the network padlocked along with other media entities. ABS-CBN reopened when Marcos was ousted by the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986.

Congressmen, during the lengthy deliberations on the network’s franchise, hurled allegations such as the ineligibility of ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III to own and manage the company due to his dual citizenship, supposed tax avoidance schemes and biased reporting. All were refuted by the network’s representatives and some lawmakers.

Aside from the free-to-air channels ordered by shut by the National Telecommunications Commission on May 5, the company’s Sky Direct and TVPlus transmissions in Metro Manila were ordered to cease and desist on June 30.

The network’s digital platforms have continued to operate despite the shutdowns.

The denial of a franchise puts at risk the jobs of some 11,000 workers under the ABS-CBN group of companies amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Hindi natatapos dito ang laban,” ABS-CBN News said in a tweet.

The embattled network can appeal the decision within the next 24 hours.