ABS-CBN top management face the House as franchise hearings continue
On May 5, 2020, 7:52pm, media giant ABS-CBN went off-air in accordance with the cease and desist order issued by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC). The network was directed to halt television and radio broadcasting operations, a day after the expiration of its congressional franchise.
The Shutdown in the midst of Covid-19
The shutdown caused a storm of outcry and criticism, citing that the event was detrimental in the midst of Filipinos still living and surviving a global pandemic. “Millions of Filipinos will lose their source of news and entertainment when ABS-CBN is ordered to go off-air on TV and radio tonight, when people need crucial and timely information as the nation deals with the COVID-19 pandemic,” ABS-CBN said in a statement past 6 pm on Tuesday.
Several senators condemned the NTC order as a “grave abuse of discretion.” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon stated, “Firstly, there’s enough precedence. It’s the Supreme Court itself that said that a provisional authority can be authorized if there renewal of franchise is pending.” Concerns on effects on jobs were also raised. Senator Grace Poe stressed, “Ngayon pa sila magpapasara kung kailan ang daming walang trabaho. At least ito, naaalagaan at di dapat sa gobyerno umasa.” (To shut down ABS-CBN when there are many without jobs. Here, the employees were cared for, and they did not only rely on government aid.)
Celebrities and human rights groups also took to social media to speak out against the effects of the shutdown on the network’s 11,000 employees, especially in the midst of the pandemic.
The Concerned Artists of the Philippines also described the NTC order as an “abuse of power.”
The Palace stressed that the decision is at the discretion of the NTC, while ABS-CBN is “free to exhaust all legal remedies available to it”. “In the absence of a legislative franchise, as we have earlier said, ABS-CBN’s continued operation is entirely with the NTC’s decision,” said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Tuesday, May 5, in a statement.
He continued, “We thank the network for its services to the Filipino nation and people, especially in this time of COVID-19.”
The debate on the issue of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal started early 2020, when Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition on February 10 before the Supreme Court to revoke the existing franchise of ABS-CBN, saying the TV network has violated rules set by Congress. He claimed that “the network allowed foreign owners to control the company by selling Philippine Depositary Receipts to them, and offering KBO as an entirely new TV channel.” The network refuted the claims of the petition, while rallies and campaigns to uphold the company were held as the debate ensued.
Read: ABS-CBN Franchise Timeline.
On February 20, ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak, made his first public statement on the issue, stating that the company was ready to recompense for shortcomings and follow whatever process was required by law, but he also appealed to the Congress saying that, “ABS-CBN’s future is in your hands. We trust in your word that you will give us the chance to respond to the questions of the public.”
However, by mid-March, the attention shifted from the issue when the country began to face the presence of Covid-19, and as the Enhanced Community Quarantine began on March 15, 2020. This caused many to express surprise with the sudden shutdown of the network on May 5. “The NTC and the national government are moving like thieves in the night while the station, its workers and the public are busy in facing the pandemic,” Defend Jobs Philippines spokesperson Thadeus Ifurung argued.
ABS-CBN filed for an urgent TRO plea which was deferred by the Supreme Court on May 19. On that same day, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano stated that hearings for the renewal of ABS-CBN’s full 25-year franchise will proceed, which quashed hopes for a provisional franchise which would have been a favorable “compromise to allow the company to operate while hearings on its full 25-year franchise are ongoing.”
The Hearings on Franchise Renewal Begin
On June 1, in his opening statement, ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak outlined and countered four points of allegations at the House of Representatives’ committee hearing.
1. The question on the life of a franchise.
The law does not cap the life of a franchise holder at 50 years, but merely requires a renewal of 25 years from grant, Katigbak said.
“Ang sinasabi sa Saligang Batas ay ang isang prangkisa ay hindi maaring tumagal ng lampas 50 years. Pero hindi po nito sinasabi na pag-abot mo ng fifty years ng serbisyo, hindi ka na pwedeng magpatuloy ng serbisyo. Ang sinasabi lang po ay kapag nag-expire ang iyong prangkisa, kailangan kumuha ulit ng panibagong prangkisa. At ang ibibigay na bagong prangkisa ay hindi pwedeng lumampas ng fifty years.” (The law states that a franchise may not exceed 50 years. But this is does not mean that when you reach 50 years of service, you have to stop providing that service. It just means that when your franchise expires, you have to a apply for new franchise that should not exceed 50 years.)
2. The question of citizenship.
Katigbak stressed that ABS-CBN Chairman Emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III is a Filipino citizen, having been born to Filipino parents, Katigbak said. Lopez III’s father, Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr., is the founder of ABS-CBN who was imprisoned during martial law.
“Totoo po na may US passport si Mr. Lopez. Ito ay dahil ipinanganak siya sa Amerika at sa batas ng Amerika, kahit hindi Amerikano ang magulang mo, kapag ipinanganak ka sa US, automatic po na may hawak ka rin na American citizenship. Pero ang pagiging American citizen niya, at ang paghawak niya ng US passport, ay hindi nangangahulugan na hindi rin siya isang Pilipino.” (It is true that Mr. Lopez possesses a US passport. This is because he was born in America. US rules state that even if your parents are not Americans, you automatically become a US citizen if you are born in their country. His having an American citizenship and passport does not mean that he is not a Filipino.)
3. The question of foreign ownership.
Holders of ABS-CBN PDRs or Philippine Depositary Receipts do not own part of the company, Katigbak said. Rival GMA Network issued its own PDRs, which did not affect its franchise renewal, he said.
Unang una po, sa simpleng lenggwahe lang, ang PDR ay hindi isang share or pag mamay-ari sa ABS-CBN. Malinaw po ito kasi ang humahawak ng PDR ay hindi nakakaboto sa kahit anumang bagay sa pamamalakad ng ABS-CBN. Paano ka magiging isang may-ari kung hindi ka pwedeng bumoto sa anumang bagay na may kinalaman sa pagpapatakbo ng kumpanya?” (Using simple language, a PDR is not a share or stock in ABS-CBN. It’s clear that PDR holders can’t vote on anything that has to do with running ABS-CBN. How can you become an owner of something when you can’t vote on anything that has something to do with running the company?)
4. The question of wrongful repossession.
Allegations that the Lopez family wrongfully regained ABS-CBN after martial law is the “most hurtful” of the allegations, Katigbak said. “Ang pagbabalik ng ABS-CBN sa pamilyang Lopez ay ayon sa batas, at may basbas ng tatlong ahensya ng gobyerno: ang PCGG, ang Office of the President, at ang Korte Suprema.” (The return of ABS-CBN to the Lopez family was lawful and done with the approval of the PCGG, the Office of the President and the Supreme Court.)
“Hindi po binenta ng Lopez family ang ABS-CBN. Basta ginamit nalang ng iba ang mga facilities ng ABS-CBN na walang binayaran. Kaya hindi po totoo ang paratang na bigla nalang napasakamay muli sa mga Lopez ang ABS-CBN dahil sila naman ang tunay na may-ari nito,” he said.
(It is not true that that the Lopez family sold ABS-CBN. Its facilities were used without permission. It’s not true that ABS-CBN was suddenly returned to the Lopezes because they are the true owners of ABS-CBN.)
Amidst pandemic, ABS-CBN top management face the House as franchise hearings continue
The House hearings on the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise resumed Monday, June 8, with ABS-CBN Chairman Emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III in attendance via video conference. Lawmakers questioned Lopez on a possible violation of ABS-CBN’s franchise, as the constitution mandates media entities to be wholly-owned by a Filipino.
Deputy Speaker and SAGIP Partylist Rep. Rodante Marcoleta grilled Lopez about his citizenship, asking him to recite the oath, “Panatang Makabayan”. Earlier, Rep. Claudine Bautista questioned the network’s part owner on his usage of a US passport and a declaration of allegiance made to the US for a travel document.
Lopez answered scrutiny by stressing that his dual citizenship had no bearing on his allegiance, “I am 100% Filipino.” At 68-years-old, Lopez invited the House to look at public records to prove decades of service for the Filipino people.
On June 5, The House of Representatives adopted the motion of House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez to allow all standing and special committees to conduct public hearings or inquiries even when Congress is adjourned sine die. This will allow the House to continue to deliberate on the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise even though the 18th Congress is on break.
According to Romualdez, the move to allow House panels to hold hearings aims to produce “noteworthy and meaningful proposed legislation” as well as “support the continued hearings of ABS-CBN’s franchise application.”
Meanwhile, some are speaking and seeking action to mitigate the impact of the ABS-CBN shutdown in the midst of the pandemic.
Lawyer Paris Real, seeking to bring ABS-CBN back on air asked the Supreme Court to define the powers of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) amid issues surrounding the media giant’s shutdown through a 166-page petition he filed on Friday. The petition aims to see any “conflict of interest” by clarifying the scope of the Powers and Functions of the OSG under Section 35 of the Administrative Code. It also seeks for a temporary restraining order against the National Telecommunications Commission’s (NTC’s) cease-and-desist issuance against ABS-CBN. Real urged the Supreme Court to immediately act on the petition by issuing a TRO because of the “urgency” of the situation, citing ABS-CBN’s P35 million losses daily, the plight of the network’s 11,000 workers and viewers who were deprived of the “simple joys of ordinary Filipinos.”
Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP)’ President, Ruperto ‘Jun’ Nicdao Jr., echoed a similar sentiment saying that “allowing ABS-CBN to resume broadcasting is the course of action that yields the greatest good for the greatest number of Filipinos.”
Written by: Pamela Imperial
Edited by: Kristine Rioflorido