Senators on Friday slammed the decision of a House committee denying ABS-CBN a new 25-year broadcasting franchise.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the decision to deny ABS-CBN its broadcasting franchise was because the network “stepped on some powerful political toes.”

“After monitoring the exhaustive proceedings in the House of Representatives, I am more convinced that the only fault of ABS-CBN is it stepped on some powerful political toes, hence the sword has been unleashed on it,” Drilon said in a statement.

“ABS-CBN has been through this before during martial law in 1972. I am confident that it can face this difficult trial once more,” he said, referring to how the network was closed and its assets seized by the government during the dictatorship of former President Ferdinand Marcos.

He added that ABS-CBN “no doubt” could survive this latest episode but said he was more concerned with the livelihood of its employees whom he described as “the real casualties of this unfortunate and politically-charged event.”

“The 11,000 workers losing jobs next month have families to feed, rent and mortgages to pay and children to send to schools, they will suffer the consequences of the decision of the House of Representatives,” he said.

The Senate minority leader also warned that the country’s democracy might weaken should politicians be allowed to wield their power against institutions “at their whim and caprice.”

“Democracy thrives when there is free press and when journalists can exercise complete freedom to do their mandate of reporting facts without fear. The sword of Damocles will continue to hang perilously over other media networks. This is when democracy starts to weaken,” he said.

Sen. Grace Poe described the denial of the franchise as a “pandemic of intolerance”

“The pandemic of intolerance has claimed another victim. As a result, thousands of breadwinners will lose their jobs, millions of their source of entertainment and information,” Poe said in a statement.

After 12 hearings, some lasting until midnight, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises voted 70 – 11 to kill the franchise application of ABS-CBN Corp., shutting down a major part of the country’s largest media network.

The 70 congressmen agreed with the report of a technical working group formed by the House Legislative Franchises Committee saying the company committed several infractions, even though ABS-CBN was cleared by several government agencies invited to the hearings like the Bureau of Internal Revenue, Securities and Exchange Commission, Department of Justice, and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority.

Only 11 voted to give the network a new franchise.

“The House has indeed set a high and unforgiving bar in approving franchises. This may affect current active franchises,” Poe, chair of the Senate public services committee, which is tasked to hear franchise bills in the Senate.

“ABS-CBN is far from a perfect organization and has admitted to its many failings. But in its balance sheet of accomplishments, the good it had done for our people are valuable,” she said.

“The correct – and constitutional – response is to allow it to remedy them, the same chance extended to thousands of franchise applicants. This is so because a media organization that occasionally commits mistakes is in the nation’s interest than one that is permanently muzzled,” the senator added.

She pointed out that the denial of a franchise for ABS-CBN curtailed not only news programs but also entertainment shows, which the senator said “represent the finest in the craft, delight the public, and inspire our people to be the best.”

Sen. Sonny Angara likewise highlighted the economic consequences of the denial of the ABS-CBN franchise, which he said would affect people other than the network’s thousands of employees.

“Masama ang magiging epekto sa ekonomiya nito di lamang sa media o broadcasting industry kung saan isang industry leader and ABS kundi sa industriya ng advertising at sa creative industries o pursuits–producing, editing, music scoring, acting, directing, set design, atbp.”

Opposition senator Kiko Pangilinan for his part said the decision to deny the largest broadcast network its franchise was also the death blow to the livelihood of 11,000 ABS-CBN employees.

“Itong hatol ng kamatayan para sa pinakamalaking estasyon sa bansa ay kamatayan din sa kabuhayan ng higit 11,000 nitong manggagawa at sa lahat ng mga tauhan nito at mga pamilya nila,” he said.

“Lalo na ngayong panahon ng COVID na 7 milyon na ang walang trabaho, dapat mismong gobyerno ang nagbibigay ng oportunidad para makapaghanapbuhay. Ngayon, aalisan pa ng trabaho ang 11,000. Ito’y patunay na wala silang pakialam sa karaniwang tao,” he said.

He added that that the decision showed that the interests of a few were considered instead of the public who are still battling the effects of Covid-19.

“Patunay na interes ng iilan at hindi ng taumbayan ang inuuna. Ito ba ay patunay na walang maaasahan ang maliliit sa Administrasyon sa gitna ng pinakamatinding krisis ng ating henerasyon?”

For fellow opposition senator Risa Hontiveros, the decision sets a dangerous precedent and sends a chilling message to Filipino to all journalists to “toe the line or get shut down.”

“May takot at pagbabanta ang mensaheng inihahatid ng gobyerno: kapag kaaway ka, pwede kang ipasara.”

“Because gov’t allowed politicking in the process of renewing a legis. franchise & succeeded in shutting down a media institution. We have begun to ring the death knell of press freedom in the country,” she added.

“Because officials committed to settle personal scores with ABS-CBN, 11,000 workers are now in danger of losing their jobs and may fail to provide for their families in the near future,” she said. “At a time when Filipinos are sick, jobless, and hungry, history will judge those who tried to silence the truth.”

The minority senator urged the public to “protect the cause of a free press” and continue to “hold those in power to account” despite the shutdown of the Philippines’ largest network.

Hontiveros warned politicians who used their positions to get back at ABS-CBN for its critical reportage, saying that they would be “judged” by history.

“May takot at pagbabanta ang mensaheng inihahatid ng gobyerno: kapag kaaway ka, pwede kang ipasara,” she said.

“Maniningil ang kasaysayan,” she concluded. (Rommel F. Lopez)