The Philippine Center of the International PEN condemns Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and the House of Representatives for rejecting without legal basis the application for franchise renewal of broadcast network ABS-CBN. The silencing of ABS-CBN constitutes a lethal blow to freedom of the press and freedom of expression–and to Philippine democracy.

Coming on the heels of the House railroading the passage of the Anti-Terror Law, the rejection is seen by the PEN as another move to shoot down Philippine democracy and suppress people’s rights and freedoms enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.

In a similar vein, Cayetano railroaded the denial of the franchise to ABS-CBN by urging a “conscience vote” by members of the House Committee on Legislative Franchise, where he’s an ex-officio member. He forced the vote after 12 hearings in which agency after agency of government, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, Department of Labor and Employment, and Bureau of Internal Revenue Service, basically said ABS-CBN had done nothing illegal to be denied its application.

The die cast, the conscience-bereft members of the committee voted to deny the franchise, and Cayetano, losing running mate of President Duterte in the 2016 election, was able to deliver on Duterte’s oft-repeated threat to close down ABS-CBN.

It is mercenary of Speaker Cayetano and the House members that, having been elected into power by the democratic Constitution, they would go through the motions of a democratic vote in order to bully and bludgeon to death a media network and a press institution that has historically embodied, warts and all, the vibrancy of Philippine democracy.

As their hearings on the franchise application showed, congressmen took to task the network for perceived slights and wrongs that were personal, petty, partisan, and ultimately, self-seeking. They found nothing that had been violated by ABS-CBN in its old franchise. They found nothing illegal in ABS-CBN. What they found was the need to settle personal scores with the network, live up to partisan commitments, and generally make a mockery of Philippine democracy.

The Lower House has fallen to the lowest of lows.

The Philippine PEN urges the Filipino people to remember the names of Speaker Cayetano, party-list Rep. Rodante Mendoza, Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla, and the rest of the 70 congressmen who voted to deny ABS-CBN its franchise. All Filipinos should remember the names of the assassins of Philippine democracy. Let us, without letup, continue to defend the cause of freedom and democracy, and our basic rights as citizens of this country as enshrined in our Constitution.