Does ABS-CBN deserve this treatment?
Let us look at the roles of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government on the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN. Disclosure: I work for GMA network, and my husband still consults for the Lopez group.
The EXECUTIVE. President Duterte has been publicly pounding on ABS-CBN since March 30, 2017, when he called it bastos (together with this newspaper) for reporting unfair news about him. He called their owners (Lopezes and Prietos) oligarchs and elites. Where did I get this information? From Rappler, another target of the President, which published a timeline on the ABS-CBN case from March 1995 when its 25-year franchise was approved, to Feb. 24, 2020, when the Senate hearings were held.
The network-shaming and threats of franchise nonrenewal began on March 30, 2017. He renewed his attacks on April 27 (swindling, for supposedly not showing his political ads during the 2016 campaign although already paid for). On May 19 he threatened to file charges for multiple syndicated estafa: “Gabby Lopez, I paid ABS-CBN P2.8 million….You accepted my money, you never bothered to show my propaganda (political advertisements). After the elections, you didn’t return the money.” He also treated the general public with his cuss vocabulary: kawalanghiya ninyo, kapal ng mukha ninyo, putang-ina ninyo, leche kayo.
He started again on Aug. 3, 2018, and then again on Dec. 3, 2019: “If you expect that (the franchise) will be renewed, I’m sorry. I will see to it that you’re out.” At the close of the year (Dec. 30), he advised them to sell the network, since Congress is unlikely to renew the franchise. How more graphic can one get?
The Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Department of Labor and Employment, the National Telecommunications Commission, have testified that ABS-CBN has no existing issues on taxes, or labor, or its pay-per-view practices. The Securities and Exchange Commission was obfuscatory, although it did say that when the network issued its Philippine Depositary Receipts, it was compliant with existing law.
The SUPREME COURT. The Solicitor General went to the Supreme Court on Feb. 10, 2020, and filed a “quo warranto” petition against the network—the same legal tactic used against former chief justice Meilou Sereno because of the fear that she would not be impeached/convicted. It worked against Sereno, maybe it will work against ABS-CBN. Jose Calida asked the Supreme Court to impose a gag order against ABS-CBN (obviously in fear of its reach). The Supreme Court has been coy: It has not issued a quo warranto or a gag order yet because, according to reports, it is still studying the case. What’s to study?
The CONGRESS. Thanks to Rappler, which gathered and analyzed the data, it is obvious that the behavior of the Lower House with respect to the ABS-CBN franchise renewal is significantly different from its behavior with respect to other mainstream broadcast groups during the Duterte administration—GMA Network, Manila Broadcasting Co., Pacific Broadcasting System, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, TV5 Network—in the 17th Congress (2016-2019); and four other mainstream broadcast groups in the 18th Congress (July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2022).
It took the 17th Lower House from 11 to 20 working days from the date the committee report was filed up to the third and final reading of the bill; it took the Senate from seven to 80 working days. In the 18th Congress, they have worked with similar swiftness.
For ABS-CBN, a bill was filed in November 2016 and other bills subsequently in the 17th Congress. They were never heard in committee. In the 18th Congress, the bills were refiled. To date, nothing. The 17th and 18th Congresses under the Duterte administration have sat on the bills for almost four years, waiting for the “issues” with the President to be resolved.
Back to the issues. Did ABS-CBN deserve the walanghiya, kapal mukha, putang ina, leche labels by Mr. Duterte? You decide. According to the Senate hearing, then Mayor Duterte purchased P117 million of national ads, and P65 million of local ads from ABS-CBN. A total of P182 million. The national ads were run, but P6.6 million of the local ads were not—purchased late, and the policy was first-come, first-served. P2.6 million was returned late (the President refused to accept it).
A little arithmetic will clarify: Of the total P182 million purchased, P6.6 million was not accommodated. That means ABS-CBN aired 96.4 percent of Mr. Duterte’s ads. For that 3.4-percent failure, a franchise is not renewed?
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