By John Ezekiel J. Hirro

Writers, journalists and educators expressed outrage over House lawmakers’ decision to deny ABS-CBN Corp. a new broadcasting franchise.

The Philippine Center of International PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists) on Saturday said the vote of 70 “assassins” of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises to shut down ABS-CBN constituted a “lethal blow” to freedoms of the press and of expression and Philippine democracy.

“It is mercenary of Speaker (Alan Peter) Cayetano and the House members that, having been elected into power by the democratic Constitution, they would go through the motions of a democratic vote in order to bully and bludgeon to death a media network and a press institution that has historically embodied, warts and all, the vibrancy of Philippine democracy,” it said in a statement.

Only the congressmen’s “personal, petty, partisan and ultimately, self-seeking” reasons, and not violations on legal grounds, caused the rejection of ABS-CBN’s franchise bid, the Philippine PEN added.

Journalism and communication educators of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) said that the House vote was a “brazen exercise of political power.”

They said that the 12 hearings on the network’s franchise application were used by “onion-skinned” politicians to air personal grievances and bully ABS-CBN officials.

Congressmen’s “shameless conduct” during the hearings, which “exposed” their ignorance and media illiteracy, “delegitimizes” the committee vote, the educators said.

UST’s student-run journalism society released a statement condemning the lawmakers’ decision.

“This arrogance and misuse of power delivered yet another blow to press freedom, which is already being battered by a draconian cyberlibel law, troll armies, media killings, and the indifference and skewed priorities of some journalists,” the statement read.

The University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication also spoke out against the franchise denial, which it said would will lead to suppression of the free press and 11,000 jobs lost.

“The job of media is to serve as watchdog of society and not serve as politicians’ public relations arm,” it said.

The House Committee on Legislative Franchises on July 10 voted to deny ABS-CBN a fresh franchise in a 70-11 vote, with two inhibitions and one abstention.

It was the first time the broadcast giant was shut down by the government since the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ declaration of Martial Law, which padlocked several media entities.

“We eagerly await ABS-CBN’s return to the airwaves and along with it, the return of our freedoms,” the UST educators said.

The National Telecommunications Commission on May 5 ordered the shutdown of ABS-CBN’s free-to-air channels, while the company’s Sky Direct and TVPlus transmissions in Metro Manila were ordered to cease and desist on June 30.

Only the network’s digital platforms have continued to operate following the shutdowns.