Rights group urges Congress to 'resist' Duterte on threats vs. ABS-CBN

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 5) — An international human rights group urged members of the Congress to go against the efforts of President Rodrigo Duterte to shut down the broadcasting operation of major TV network ABS-CBN.

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday said the legislators must remain independent from the whims of Duterte, who has vowed to exhaust all means to make sure the broadcasting network does not get a fresh franchise.

"Philippine Congress members should resist the president’s effort to shut down ABS-CBN. Appeasing a vindictive president who is hell-bent on frustrating accountability for his policies will have far-reaching implications, Human Rights Asia Division Researcher Carlos Conde said.

The group said if the Congress — which is dominated by Duterte's allies — bows down and helps the President take revenge against the TV network, it will have implications on media freedom, human rights, and democracy in the Philippines.

"Duterte is misusing the government’s regulatory powers to settle a score with ABS-CBN. These actions are part of a broader crackdown on media outlets and civil society groups that dare criticize him," HRW said.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the bills seeking to renew ABS-CBN's franchise will not be tackled this year. Lawmakers will wait until the start of next year to discuss it, due to the 2020 budget.

All franchise bills must first be approved by the House before they go to the Senate. ABS-CBN's franchise will expire on March 30, 2020 unless Congress and the President approve a new one. Five bills have been filed to extend the franchise for another 25 years.

Duterte on Tuesday said he will personally make sure the TV network will be out of business when its license to operate expires.

"Ang inyong franchise mag-end next year [Your franchise will end next year]. If you are expecting na ma-renew 'yan [a renewal], I'm sorry. You're out. I will see to it that you're out," said Duterte in a speech.

The President has repeatedly slammed the network since 2018 for supposedly failing to air his presidential campaign advertisements in 2016.

Labor group Defend Job Philippines reiterated its call to grant a new franchise, saying Duterte should resolve its rift with the TV executives in the proper channel.

"[He] must stop using the legislative franchise and the job security issue of ABS-CBN workers as hostages to his plans of going after the TV network," it said in a statement on Wednesday.

The TV network, one of the largest in the country, had 6,730 regular employees, 900 non-regular employees and 3,325 talents at the end of 2018, according to its report to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Philippine Stock Exchange.

“Being vital in operating for the next 25 years, the legislative franchise of ABS-CBN will save the jobs and source of livelihood of more than 10,000 Filipino workers and their families,” group spokesperson Christian Lloyd Magsoy said in a statement.

The topic has also been the buzz online. #NoToABSCBNShutDown is the top trending topic in the Philippines. Netizens are appealing for security for the thousands employed by the network. Some are also saying the possible closure infringes on press freedom.