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House leader accuses ABS-CBN of violating Constitution, franchise law

/ 06:10 PM May 26, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — A House leader raised a slew of franchise issues and violations allegedly committed by ABS-CBN as the lower chamber opened its hearing on Tuesday on the new franchise application of the giant broadcast network.

Referencing ABS-CBN contract artist Kim Chui in her viral video clip, “Bawal Lumabas,” Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta said that because the network did not comply with the provisions in expired 25-year franchise, Congress should not be keen on giving it another 25-year franchise.

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“Hindi nag-comply ang ABS-CBN kaya hindi sila pwedeng lumabas at magpalabas,” said Marcoleta, who delivered the opening speech on behalf of those opposing the franchise bid.

Marcoleta said ABS-CBN has wielded so much power that those who have been oppressed by it would not want to openly speak up against the company.

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“Tikom ang bibig ng may kakayahang magsiwalat nito dahil takot sa maimpluwensyang network na kayang sirain ang tao — kandidato man o hindi,” he said.

The issues he raised, however, appeared to be a rehash of the issues already hurled against and already answered by the network.

Foreign ownership

Marcoleta’s opening salvo claimed that ABS-CBN violated the Constitution, particularly the requirement on the 100 percent Filipino ownership and management of mass media companies.

The lawmaker claimed the network’s former president Gabby Lopez III, scion of ABS-CBN founder Eugenio Lopez Sr., was an American citizen when he took the helm in 1986. He was director of the board, and later became president and chairman of the network.

“It was only in 2000 that he petitioned for recognition of Filipino citizenship and was issued a certificate of recognition as a Filipino citizen in 2002,” Marcoleta said.

ABS-CBN had recently explained that Lopez was born to Filipino parents, making him a Filipino citizen under the 1935 Constitution that was in effect when he was born.

“He did not need to acquire Filipino citizenship because he never lost it nor renounced it. He was born in the US and under the US Constitution, he is also a US citizen,” ABS-CBN explained.

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But Marcoleta argued that ABS-CBN “lets non-Filipinos to own its common shares through the issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs).”

In a separate statement, ABS-CBN also said that ABS-CBN Holdings’ PDRs were evaluated and approved by SEC and the Philippine Stock Exchange prior to its public offering. Further, as far as the SEC is concerned, ABS-CBN does not have pending violations that doesn’t preclude possible investigation.

“At this time, we are not aware of any violation of any ongoing complaint or investigation involving ABS-CBN. ABS-CBN is a listed company subject to the reportorial requirement,” Commissioner Ephyro Luis Amatong said in a Senate hearing in February.

Violation of workers’ rights

Marcoleta also alleged that ABS-CBN “committed unfair labor practices which consequently denied its employees required by law to be provided to all employees.”

The lawmaker cited the charges filed by more than 100 ABS-CBN workers before the National Labor Relations Commission for removing them from their jobs as they were not regular employees.

Further, Marcoleta said that only over 2,600 workers are regular employees of ABS-CBN. More than 8,500 workers are considered as talents, project workers and contractual.

“ABS-CBN has not regularized its contractual workers and talents despite performing the functions of regular workers. It even forced some of its workers to sign employment contracts containing waiver of the right to regularization,” Marcoleta claimed.

This has also been refuted by the network in a statement dated February 26, claiming that it follows “all pertinent labor and civil code laws in the engagement of its various types of workers.”

ABS-CBN further cited an interview with Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III who said that the network is fully compliant with labor standards.

Political bias

Marcoleta further hit the network for being “biased and partisan” in favor of particular candidates during the 2010 and 2016 elections, which is contrary to the terms of its franchise and in violation of the omnibus election code.

“Hindi lingid sa kaalaman ng marami, kung hindi man lahat, kung paano naging pro-Noynoy Aquino ang ABS-CBN noong 2010, at pro-Grace Poe at Leni Robredo naman noong 2016,” the lawmaker said.

“It is also a matter of record that ABS-CBN failed to air some of President Duterte’s political advertisements during the 2016 campaign period despite receiving the payment for the political ads,” he added.

Marcoleta said that ABS-CBN should no longer be allowed to meddle with the political landscape in the country.

In February, ABS-CBN president and chief executive officer Carlo Katigbak apologized to Duterte over a controversial political ad it aired in 2016, maintaining that the network abided by laws and regulations on the airing of such ads.

Katigbak explained that the network had aired all of the over P100 million worth of national ads paid by Duterte at the time. However, he admitted that they were unable to air all of the local ads paid for by Duterte in 2016.

Duterte has accepted the apology.

Franchise is longer than 50 years

In arguing against the grant of a new franchise, Marcoleta said that given the 25-year expired franchise of ABS-CBN, to be the time of its incorporation in 1967, the network would have already been operating for a total of 53 years, or three years in excess of the limitation imposed on broadcast franchises.

Marcoleta was referring to Section 11 of Article XII of the 1987 Constitution, which states that: “No franchise, certificate, or any other form of authorization for the operation of a public utility shall be granted… for a longer period than fifty years.”

“Simula noong 1967 ay naging ABS-CBN na po ang taga dito dahil sa merger ng ABS at CBN. Kung susumahin natin ang prangkisa nito simula none 1967, ay 53 taon na itong gumagamit ng airwaves magpahanggang ngayon,” Marcoleta explained.

“Sixty-three years naman kung susumahin natin mula nang pagkakakuha ng CBN sa ABS noong 1957,” the lawmaker added.

Marcoleta said that even if the years when ABS-CBN was shut down during Martial Law starting 1972 until the EDSA Revolution will be subtracted, ABS-CBN would still be in operation for 50 years starting 1957.

“The committee on legislative franchises should not allow itself to be used by ABS-CBN to again circumvent the Constitution and violate the categorical 50-year limitation imposed in franchises,” he said.

Marcoleta also alleged of ABS-CBN’s tax evasion and its operation of its pay-per-view services, an issue already addressed by BIR Regular LT Audit Division 3 Head Simplicio Cabantac Jr., in a Senate hearing, saying that the network is “regularly filing and paying their taxes for the past number of years.”

For his part, Katigbak claimed there is “no reason” for ABS-CBN to not be granted a franchise.

“There have been many accusations thrown against us. Sinasabi ng mga bumabatikos sa amin, the law is the law. And we agree, the law is the law. And under the law, we are innocent unless proven guilty,” Katigbak said in the House hearing.

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TAGS: ABS-CBN, ABS-CBN franchise, ABS-CBN shutdown, legislative franchise
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