House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano (Photo courtesy by CNN PH)

MANILA – Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Tuesday refuted claims that the denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise bid would have a “chilling effect” on other media organizations.

Cayetano dismissed as “completely false” the claims of Senator Grace Poe and Vice President Leni Robredo that the House Committee on Legislative Franchises’ decision to deny the network’s franchise would have a “chilling effect” on journalists and freedom of expression in general.

He said the chilling effect would only apply to those who would abuse the system.

“I invite both the Vice President and our good Senator to read the decision, re-watch the hearings, and maybe come to understand that not breaking the law is not the same as obeying it,” Cayetano said in a Facebook post.

Cayetano also told Poe to “just chill” as the “country is on the right track”, noting that the only precedent the franchise denial sets is the non-tolerance of oligarchs.

“I agree with Sen. Grace Poe that the denial of the Lopez’s franchise application for ABS-CBN sets a precedent. And it is precisely the precedent we want to make – that the House of Representatives will never tolerate anyone, including oligarchs, who will abuse the system and cheat both the government and our people,” he said.

He cited as a point of comparison, the GMA-7 and TV5 franchises, which were approved “without a hitch”.

“That is because their exercise of the freedom of speech and of the press was never employed to mask the corporate practices of their owners that screwed the system and our people – to the tune of billions of pesos,” he said.

Cayetano earlier said the ABS-CBN owners, whom he described as “oligarchs”, have deprived the country of billions worth of much-needed funds by skirting and bending the law.

“It wasn’t the government who shut ABS-CBN down, rather it was their owners’ playing fast and loose with our laws in the past decades, that made the shutdown inevitable,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano particularly cited ABS-CBN’s tax avoidance scheme as he compared the amount of taxes paid by the embattled network and its top rival GMA-7.

He noted that GMA paid PHP3.13 billion in taxes from 2017 to 2019, as compared to ABS-CBN’s only PHP563 million for the same period.

Last Friday, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises approved by a 70-11 vote, with one abstention, the resolution denying the franchise application of ABS-CBN Corp. to construct, install, establish, operate, and maintain radio and broadcasting stations in the Philippines. Two other lawmakers inhibited from voting.

The previous House hearings have exhaustively discussed the network’s franchise issues, including the citizenship of ABS-CBN chair emeritus Gabby Lopez; the possible violation of the constitutional limits on foreign ownership; reported labor and tax violations; and other violations of the terms of its legislative franchise. (PNA)