Misery at RPNBy Malou Guanzon-Apalisok
Cebu Daily News
This corner commiserates with former co-workers of dyKC Radio Philippines Network RPN Channel 9 after they were unceremoniously sacked from the sequestered broadcast company early this week.
I saw Emigdio “Emie” Bustillo and Juan Ybañez, two of four retrenched Cebu-based RPN workers, during the closing program of Cebu Press Freedom Week and looking at their happy faces, I didn’t sense impending doom.
In less than two weeks, RPN lowered the boom on some 200 employees including Emie, Juan, Elvie Chavez and Adam Panalgo of RPN Cebu. They went to the station to report for duty last Tuesday only to be barred from entering. The guard shoved them a copy of the notice of retrenchment, and for RPN it was all in a day’s work.
I needed to review the news items in the online edition of the Inquirer and other sources to know if the Asset Privatization Council had issued a proclamation to resolve RPN’s ownership. As a sequestered station, the company, along with its sister station IBC, cannot be sold until ownership is resolved. Determination resides with the Committee on Privatization and the Asset Privatization Trust.
RPN and IBC thrived during the Martial Law period under the late Ambassador Roberto Benedicto. The Marcos crony ran the twin station through the Kanlaon Broadcasting System although there was widespread perception that Marcos was behind the corporate setup—some say, shell structures that concealed the real owners.
After Marcos fell from power, the government of Cory Aquino sequestered RPN and IBC and its operations fell under the authority of the Presidential Commission on Good Government PCGG. The government’s interest in the day to day operations is covered by the Board of Directors and a general manager who is in charge of the flagship station in Quezon City, having oversight powers over 14 provincial radio and 8 TV stations.
During its heyday, RPN 9 offered the fattest salaries and emoluments to company workers. After EDSA in 1986, the cream and stuff of the pie went to the higher echelon, while workers’ benefits slowly went from good to bad to worse.
When I left the station in 1995, the salaries were still coming on time, but the bonuses and other benefits, as provided for in the workers’ Collective Bargaining Agreement, became uncertain. As far as I know, the biggest mystery in RPN then was what happened to the workers’ welfare fund because employees who left the company in the late ‘90s were unable to collect their full retirement benefits. Many were forced to receive cash benefits in tranches and because there was practically nothing to make them start a new life, the situation forced them to go back to RPN and work as casuals.
I had written a number of articles about the sequestered stations because I’m familiar with the workplace having been RPN Cebu’s radio production chief in the late ‘80s until 1995. I was IBC 13 Cebu station manager from 2002 to 2004 and I know workers detest the sequestration setup because it resulted in the dissipation of company resources. One only has to look at the broadcast facilities in Mandaue City to validate this point.
The privatization of IBC 13 and RPN 9 is problematic because both networks piled up hundreds of millions of pesos in tax obligations and unpaid benefits to employees. However, because IBC 13 owns the 4.6-hectare property in Quezon City known as Broadcast City, it has an advantage over RPN 9 in terms of attracting buyers.
Let me focus this discussion on RPN 9 because the statements of Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma, who supervises government media entities, hit me like a thunderbolt.
He said RPN is no longer a government corporation “since 66 percent of two-thirds of the equity is owned by private corporations such as Far East Managers and Investors Inc. (FEMII) with 34-percent equity and Solar Entertainment Group with 32 percent. The government has 20.8-percent equity while the remaining 14 percent were owned by individual private stockholders.”
Excuse me, how did Solar TV, a block timer, meaning, an outside producer who buys airtime to broadcast programs, end up as part owner of the network? It’s the first time I heard about FEMII, an investment company linked to the Benedictos of the defunct KBS, having a stake in RPN 9. Who decided the equity share of these parties?
Granting without admitting, when Solar TV and FEMII acquired network assets in the aggregate of 66 percent of two-thirds equity, did the transaction pass through the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel, Presidential Commission on Good Government and the Office of the Solicitor General?
I understand a mandatory review by the Privatization Council is also required, pursuant to Section 3 of Executive Order No. 323, which constituted an Inter-agency Privatization Council and Privatization Management Office under the Finance department.
The election fever is upon us, but I hope Congress will look into this.
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