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Philippine broadcaster that angered Duterte loses key vote

ABS-CBN says 11,000 jobs at risk if its franchise not renewed

ABS-CBN was forced to shut its popular flagship channel and radio stations on May 5 after its 25-year legislative franchise expired, resulting in an estimated 30 million pesos ($607,000) pesos in advertising losses daily.   © AFP/Jiji

MANILA -- Philippine lawmakers voted on Friday to keep the country's largest broadcaster ABS-CBN that has infuriated President Rodrigo Duterte off the air. 

The 70 to 11 vote by members of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises means that ABS-CBN's congressional franchise will not be renewed after it expired on May 5, and the network will remain shut down.

While ABS-CBN can appeal the decision, critics condemned the closure of the network as a blow to press freedom.

"Today, this chamber has lost all claim to represent the people and our interests," said the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

"Not only have more than 11,000 people been stripped of their jobs, millions of Filipinos have been deprived of their right to know and their right to choose how to access the information they need to decide on their futures as well as the entertainment that allows them a respite from the hardships of life."

The media conglomerate, whose much smaller cable service is still operational, said it was losing an estimated 30 million pesos ($607,000) a day in forgone advertising revenues. ABS-CBN's shares fell 2.6% after the news.

Duterte has previously threatened to block the network's franchise renewal, accusing the broadcaster of not airing his ads during the 2016 election campaign.

During the 12 congressional inquiries on the issue, lawmakers allied with Duterte opposed ABS-CBN's franchise application, attacking the broadcaster's tax and labor practices, and political bias in its coverage.

ABS-CBN said it did not violate the law, and that it's closure puts 11,000 jobs at risk.

Citing testimony from government officials given during the hearings that absolved ABS-CBN of  wrongdoing, lawmakers in favor of granting the franchise said in a joint statement ahead of the vote that ABS-CBN had "fully complied with the provisions and requirements of its previous franchise."

"The political persecution of ABS-CBN sends a chilling message to Filipino media practitioners and journalists: toe the line or get shut down," said opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros.

President Duterte's office distanced itself from the issue, saying that it was the sole prerogative of Congress.

"The Palace has maintained a neutral stance on the issue as it respects the separation of powers between the two coequal branches government," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.

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