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In 2022 elections, majority of those who voted to reject ABS-CBN's franchise renewal won fresh mandates

By NICK GARCIA Published May 27, 2022 7:31 pm Updated May 28, 2022 3:26 pm

Except in Quezon City, the ABS-CBN franchise issue did not affect the electoral performance of lawmakers who voted against the media giant in 2020, another telling sign according to experts that personality is still king in Philippine elections.

After 70 lawmakers voted to deny ABS-CBN a new congressional franchise on July 10, 2020, some netizens vowed to "remember" their names, saying they'll return the favor during the May 9 elections and deny them electoral seats. Infographics showing the lawmakers' faces and identifying their names made the rounds online to help people remember.

But the supposed payback was not realized. A campaign strategist said the issue didn't really affect the poll chances of the 70 lawmakers who voted to strike down the media giant's appeal to renew its franchise, much less the 11 lawmakers who supported ABS-CBN's franchise renewal.

So how did the wheel of fate turn for those who decided on the fate of the media giant?

Of the 70 lawmakers who voted to deny ABS-CBN a franchise, 45 emerged victorious in the May 9 polls. Thirty-eight of them won legislative districts or local positions, while seven are first nominees of the winning party-list groups the Comission on Elections proclaimed on May 26.

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Cavite 7th District Rep. Boying Remulla, who harped on ABS-CBN's supposed tax deficiencies, was handpicked as justice secretary of the Marcos Jr. administration. (The Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Securities and Exchange Commission have previously cleared the network of any outstanding tax liabilities.)

The seven first nominees from winning party-list groups were led by Tingog Sinirangan's Yedda Romualdez, the wife of Leyte 1st District Rep. Martin Romualdez.

Martin is president-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.'s first cousin, who is reportedly poised to be the next House Speaker.

Enrico Pineda, meanwhile, is the second nominee of 1-PACMAN. First nominee Michael Romero will be the one taking the seat in the 19th Congress.

Enrico Pineda. Photo from the House of Representatives website

The 19th Congress will have 316 representatives, 253 (80%) of whom are from legislative districts and 63 (20%) from party-list groups.

Twelve of those who voted to reject ABS-CBN's franchise renewal, meanwhile, lost.

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Another 12 franchise didn't run for public office.

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Rodante Marcoleta of SAGIP initially ran as senator, but backed out on April 27, citing "poor" ratings in pre-election surveys. Roger Mercado, meanwhile, was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as acting secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways in 2021. Mercado will be succeeded by Manny Bonoan as chosen by Marcos Jr.

Francisco Datol of the Senior Citizens party-list, apparently, succumbed to COVID-19 in 2020.

Of the 11 lawmakers who voted to approve ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal, seven won, one lost, and three didn’t run.

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Of the two who inhibited from voting, Alfred Vargas won as Quezon City 5th District Councilor while Micaela Violago didn’t seek reelection as Nueva Ecija 2nd District representative. Alfredo Garbin, the lone abstainee, lost in the mayoral race in Legazpi in Albay.

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Those who didn’t seek a government post this 2022 had relatives, if not allies, run in their stead.

‘Mostly confined’ in Quezon City

Of the 12 lawmakers who voted against ABS-CBN's franchise renewal who lost, three of them tried their chances in Quezon City where the ABS-CBN franchise issue was "mostly confined," according to campaign strategist Alan German.

Quezon City is home to 1.4 million registered voters, the highest among the cities in the capital Metro Manila and, by extension, the entire Philippines.

“Hindi siya hot-button issue (outside of Quezon City), ang layo niya sa bituka,” German told PhilSTAR L!fe. "Elsewhere, it wasn't held over their heads (franchise deniers)."

"All they (non-QC residents) really lost was entertainment. Wala na silang source ng katatawanan, which was already filled in by other media," he added.

The franchise issue, German noted, was mostly amplified in the mayoral race between reelectionist Joy Belmonte and Mike Defensor, in which Belmonte won a second term with 645,580 votes versus Defensor’s 407,506.

When local campaigns kicked off on March 25, Belmonte was quick to throw shade at Defensor even without naming him, telling residents to not vote for her rival who prioritized shutting down ABS-CBN amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She also criticized the same rival who distributed unauthorized anti-parasitic drug for animals as supposed treatment for COVID-19. Defensor led the distribution of Ivermectin in the city in April 2021.

German also pointed out that aside from the 11,000 ABS-CBN employees who have been retrenched, livelihoods within and nearby Sgt. Esguerra Avenue corner Mother Ignacia Street were caught in the shutdown’s “blast radius.”

“You're thinking of suppliers, vendors na nawalan ng income,” he said. “These represented votes.”

The National Alliance of Broadcast Unions—whose members include ABS-CBN, IBC-13, GMA-7, TV5, and PTV-4—also endorsed Belmonte and explicitly urged the public not to vote for Defensor and the other “franchise killers.”

Hindi siya hot-button issue (outside of Quezon City), ang layo niya sa bituka.

The franchise issue also played a significant role in the first district representative bid of Kapamilya actor Arjo Atayde, who won by a landslide against incumbent and political clan member Onyx Crisologo, with 111,742 votes to 52,554.

Atayde, though running independent, is allied with Belmonte, who even accompanied him in filing his certificate of candidacy. Crisologo, meanwhile, is allied with Defensor.

The political neophyte said the ABS-CBN shutdown was one of the primary factors that compelled him to run, noting that the franchise renewal will be among his main goals while in office. He also vowed to help all “kapamilyas” in the city who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ralph Tulfo, another rookie who’s the son of senator-elect and broadcast personality Raffy Tulfo, also defeated incumbent Precious Castelo for second district representative, 124,780 to 94,275.

Ralph, who headlined miting de avances in the city with Atayde, is also backing ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal like his father Raffy, who just won a Senate seat.

The only candidate outside of Quezon City where the ABS-CBN franchise figured was in Bulacan, where Danny Domingo defeated reelectionist Jose Sy-Alvarado for first district representative, 202,712 to 140,798.

Domingo used the red, green, and blue rings of ABS-CBN's logo in his campaign materials. Aptly, his ballot number is #2, signifying Channel 2 or Dos.

While German noted that such a "memorable key visual" helped align with Domingo's own brand, his win wasn't necessarily hinged on the franchise issue. Domingo, for one, is a political veteran who's part of the powerful Domingo clan in the province.

Even the losses of those who voted against the renewal cannot simply be attributed to their decision, German said, as other factors came into play like political dynasties, stronger opponents, or stroke of luck.

Order of attribute preference

Beyond any qualification or track record, German said personality was still king in the recently concluded elections.

"It's like, 'Wala akong pakialam kahit pumatay iyan o convicted iyan, basta madaling lapitan at matulungin,'" he said, noting that those with history in corruption, tax evasion, and the like aren't taken to task anymore as most voters would still choose to elect them.

Archie Inlong, CEO of NPI Communication Consulting, Inc., previously told PhilSTAR L!fe that even though a candidate has a better grasp of issues, personality still wins.

It's like, 'Wala akong pakialam kahit pumatay iyan o convicted iyan, basta madaling lapitan at matulungin.'

Voting for candidates who are problematic on paper is the "sad state" of the country's electorate, German said.

"To include the franchise issue to it, that's too many journeys for a Filipino voter, who as we've seen, given the election results, don't like to be taken to a journey," he said.

Under the incoming Marcos Jr. administration, the issue of ABS-CBN's franchise remains up in the air.

Marcos Jr. said he's leaving the matter up to the 19th Congress. In an interview with DWIZ in January, he said ABS-CBN must fix its tax deficiencies first before trying to secure another franchise renewal, a matter that has been cleared already by the government's tax authorities.

Another problem would be the broadcast frequencies ABS-CBN will be using if it regains a franchise, as some of these spectrum assets have been reportedly parceled off to Advanced Media Broadcasting System Inc. of business tycoon Manny Villar, as well as the Sonshine Media Network Inc. owned by the controversial Pastor Apollo Quiboloy

(With research from Jemima Cruz)