The Philippine House of Representatives has failed to renew the license of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to operate its radio network, prompting concerns that it may be an attempt to censor the Church.
The bishops filed an application to renew the license this January after the previous one expired on Aug. 7. However, the bill that sought the extension of the franchise for another 25 years had been mired at the committee level.
Under the Philippine law, radio and television networks are required to have a franchise, which is granted by Congress through legislation. The last time that the CBCP had its franchise renewed was in 1992, according to UCA News.
The failure to renew the franchise could affect at least 54 radio stations under the country's Catholic Media Network (CMN).
UCA News noted that the CMN is the largest broadcaster in the Philippines in terms of the total number of stations and transmitting power per station, reaching 11 regions and 35 provinces.
Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the public affairs committee of the bishops' conference, said that he is not discounting politics as a reason for the failure to renew the franchise, noting that Church leaders had been critical of President Rodrigo Duterte.
"It's sad that politics could get in the way of our democratic processes," Secillano said, adding that "it may be one reason why Congress didn't renew the franchise."
"It's the voice of the people and our search for truth that's being undermined by Congress," the priest remarked.
Despite the nonrenewal of the franchise, several Catholic radio stations in the country continue to operate, including its online radio, which features mostly mellow music and a program featuring the daily gospels.
Radyo Veritas, which is operated by the Manila Archdiocese, has a separate franchise that was renewed by the previous administration.
The Church had been critical of the rising number of deaths in the government's war on drugs, and it has also staunchly opposed the attempts to restore the death penalty.
Last week, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, an ally of Duterte, castigated the bishops for their failure to address the issue of sexual abuse by priests.
"They prey on minors, so many of them ... are pedophiles, let them clean up their ranks before criticizing government," he said, adding that the bishops should aim their sermons on sinful priests instead of criticizing the war on drugs.
Congressman Franz Alvarez, chairman of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, said that the inaction on the bill to renew the CBCP's franchise was due to the number of applications the legislative body had to attend to, noting that the measure was "still awaiting hearing."