13,000 back ‘people’s franchise’ for ABS-CBN

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MANILA, Philippines — At least 13,000 people have already signed up to help a volunteer group’s bid to legislate a new franchise for the ABS-CBN television network through a people’s initiative even as six congressmen launched their own move to demand a plenary review of the rejection of the network’s franchise renewal.

“We are happy that 13,000 Filipinos, not only all over the Philippines but around the world, have volunteered. The response online has been overwhelming given that we have just launched in a matter of days,” said Leon Flores III, coconvenor of the People’s Initiative for Reforms and Movement for Action (Pirma Kapamilya).

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The group, which claims to be independent of the network, was formed after the House committee on legislative franchises rejected ABS-CBN’s application to renew its franchise.

According to Article VI, Section 32 of the Constitution, a people’s initiative requires signatures from at least 3 percent of registered voters in each of the country’s 243 legislative districts and total of at least 10 percent of registered voters in the country.

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After the minimum number of signatures is gathered, the Commission on Elections will verify each of the signatures and hold a plebiscite to approve the proposed measure.

“Every single day that ABS-CBN is not operational, more people lose their jobs and livelihood, and even more people are deprived of critical information during this pandemic and the coming typhoon season. We cannot overstate the urgency of the matter,” Flores said.

Other than Flores, the group’s other coconvenors include University of the Philippines (UP) law professor Herminio Bagro III, Far Eastern University law professor Eirene Jhone Aguila, entrepreneur and public interest lawyer Dino de Leon, UP law professor and human rights advocate Mike Tiu and youth governance advocate Allan Pangilinan.

Flores said Pirma aimed to gather 7 million signatures nationwide in order to grant ABS-CBN a “people’s franchise.”

The group said it was also exploring the possibility of utilizing digital signatures, which is recognized by the law.

ACT Teachers party list Rep. France Castro expressed support for the people’s initiative launched by Pirma.

“We welcome this kind of move, but for us, this can already be taken as a slap on the face of Congress,” Castro said.

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Castro was among the six congressmen who agreed to jointly demand that the franchise committee’s rejection of ABS-CBN application be reviewed by the entire House.

Aside from Castro, the five other lawmakers are Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Buhay party list Rep. Lito Atienza Jr., Gabriela Women’s party list Rep. Arlene Brosas, Parañaque Rep. Joy Myra Tambunting and Agusan Del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun.

“There is every reason for us to initiate an effort to review the report of the [committee’s technical working group] and question the decision of the 70 [members] … Only a plenary session can do that,” Atienza said.

He was referring to the 70 lawmakers who voted to deny the ABS-CBN franchise, based on the recommendation of a technical working group (TWG) created by the franchise committee.

Atienza said he was appalled at how the TWG managed to come up with a 40-page recommendation overnight, which, he said, was an indication that the committee had a prejudgment of the issue.

Brosas, on the other hand, lamented that the House committee imposed stringent standards on ABS-CBN, which were not applied on other applicants of broadcast franchises.

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