(July 09, 2020) – Lawmakers stopped short of putting to a vote on Thursday a bill that will decide the fate of the country’s biggest broadcast company which seeks a new franchise to resume its operation, after a two-month shutdown.
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano led the summation of points on the penultimate day of hearings on the franchise issue of embattled media giant ABS-CBN, with 92 legislators expected to rule at the committee level. Among those who will cast their votes are House leaders as ex-officio members, including Cayetano and his deputies.
The House leader slammed the network anew over its perceived media bias and “theft of government from the people while hiding under the pretense of press freedom.”
“Big business, conjoined with commercial media, should not be allowed to engage in partisan politics by wielding its power to protect its interest, meddle and interfere in elections, and surreptitiously support certain candidates in the guise of reporting the news,” he said.
Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor, who grilled ABS-CBN executives during the 12-hearing proceedings, hit the oligarchic nature of the Lopez family who owns the media company. He mentioned a book by historian Alfred McCoy which detailed the Lopezes’ rent-seeking scheme from ABS-CBN to power distributor Meralco.
Rent-seeking is an economic concept where an individual or an entity increases their wealth without creating any benefit or wealth to the society.
“They say that the vote for the continuance of a franchise or granting of a franchise to ABS-CBN is a suppression of press freedom but I say, Mr. Chairman, that a yes vote to stop the franchise is a vote to stop the perpetuation of an oligarchy that continues to suppress our people,” said Defensor.
Sagip Rep. Rodante Marcoleta for his part, insisted that ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez is an American, and therefore, not allowed to own and run the network under the Constitution.
“Wala pong napakitang ebidensya na Pilipino pa rin ang mga magulang ni Ginoong Lopez noong siya ay pinanganak noong 1952 sa Amerika,” Marcoleta said.
But House Deputy Minority speaker Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna, who asserted ABS-CBN did not violate any laws on his summation, mentioned the justice department and immigration bureau stands on Lopez as a Filipino, after lawmakers questioned his dual citizenship.
Zarate added that the Securities and Exchange Commission has cleared ABS-CBN Holdings over the issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs), which were not “evidence of ownership.”
Marcoleta responded, stressing the selling of PDRs opened ABS-CBN to foreign ownership.
“It must be emphasized that contrary to ABS-CBN’s submission, it is not the view of the SEC that matters here. It is not the opinion of the DOJ that will prevail, not even the BI or other agencies. It is the will of Congress that should be accorded due respect,” he said.
AMCAR, TAX SHIELDS
The Sagip lawmaker also alleged that ABS-CBN used its subsidiaries, Big Dipper and the Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation, as tax shields.
“Ang sabi ng BIR: ang ABS-CBN ay palaging bayad sa buwis. Katunayan ito ay isa sa pinakamalaking taxpayer sa Pilipinas. Sabi ng PEZA, walang tax shield,” Zarate answered.
Lawmakers also probed the ABS-CBN’s blocktime agreement with Amcara Broadcasting Corp., declaring it “usufruct” as it allowed the company to air programs on its frequency.
ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak earlier explained that Amcara’s Channel 43 was not listed in the cease-and-desist order issued last May 5.
The lawmaker then raised doubts that ABS-CBN owned the property in Mother Ignacia Avenue in Quezon City, when the Marcos government took over in 1972.
But Marcoleta was forced to pause his address due to a power interruption in the session hall.
Marcoleta and Zarate also refuted each other on the labor cases filed by former employees against ABS-CBN.
“It was established that ABS-CBN, and contrary to the endeared Kapamilya treatment to its workers, showed a pattern of systemic denial from its deserving workers the benefit of regularization,” Marcoleta said.
Zarate replied that the Department of Labor and Employment cleared the network of labor violations.
“Matapos ang napakaraming bintang, uulitin ko, walang napatunayan na pagkakasala ang ABS-CBN. Sa halip, nakita natin ang kaniyang pakinabang sa bayan bilang tagapaglingkod,” he said.
Earlier, Abang Lingkod Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano withdrew his co-authorship of House Bill 3713 giving ABS-CBN its franchise, the second to do so after Kabayan Rep. Ron Salo.
ABS-CBN is seeking a fresh 25-year franchise after its license to operate expired on May 4.
The House Committee on Legislative Franchise is set to form a technical working group to draft a recommendation, which will form the basis of the members’ decision, possibly on Friday.
Groups and ABS-CBN employees supporting the network earlier staged a caravan urging lawmakers to grant the new franchise. (Katrina Elaine Alba/AGD)
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