The House Committee on Legislative Franchises rejected on Friday 11 legislative measures proposing to grant a fresh 25-year legislative franchise for network giant ABS-CBN Corporation.
The vote, 70 against the franchise bid and 11 in favor, ended ABS-CBN’s bid to return on the air after it stopped operations on May 4, the day its previous 25-year congressional franchise expired.
Chaired by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, the House legislative franchise panel arrived at the decision after conducting 12 days of joint hearings with the House Committee on Good Government that tackled issues that hounded the network’s bid to resume operations.
The 85 panel members present – 36 of them ex-officio members being officials of the chamber – voted for the approval or denial of “Resolution Denying the Franchise Application ABS-CBN Corporation to Construct, Install, Establish, Operate and Maintain Radio & Broadcasting Stations in the PH.”
Seventy congressmen upheld the resolution and rejected the franchise bills while the 11 “negative” votes sought to grant the Kapamilya network a new congressional license to operate a broadcast network.
Only one committee member abstained while two decided to inhibit themselves from the voting.
With the vote, Alvarez approved a motion to lay on the table the 11 legislative proposals to allow ABS-CBN to get a franchise.
The 40-page resolution was presented by the technical working group that was formed Thursday to make a recommendation on the voting based on the summations presented for and against the ABS-CBN franchise application.
Deputy Speaker and Cebu Rep. Pablo John Garcia, TWG chairman, and Assistant Majority Leader Xavier Jesus Romualdo of Camiguin approved the resolution denying the grant of franchise while the third TWG member, Assistant Minority Leader Stella Luz Quimbo of Marikina City dissented.
Before the voting, Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas declared he was inhibiting himself from the proceedings for fear of conflict of interest.
“This representation as an actor/ producer and has been engaged for artistic projects with the network,” Vargas said.
On Thursday, Abang Lingkod Party-list Rep. Joseph Paduano withdrew his authorship of one of the ABS-CBN franchise proposal while Kabayan Rep. Ron Salo moved to lay his bill proposing a new franchise on the table.
Following a strong protest from the network, ACT CIS Party-list Rep. Eric Go Yap, chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, clarified his claim that he was offered a ₱200-million bribe to support the ABS-CBN franchise.
Yap said he never claimed that the unidentified “briber” was sent by the management of the network.
ABS-CBN network started seeking the House of Representatives’ approval of a new franchise during the 16th Congress, during the administration of then President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, known as an ally of the embattled network.
In the course of the hearings, lawmakers played key roles in presenting flaws and violations of the franchise license allegedly committed by the ABS-CBN management. The lawmakers were Deputy Speaker and Sagip Party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta; Deputy Majority Leader Crispin Remulla (NP, Cavite) and Reps. Mike Defensor (Anakalusugan); Eric Go Yap (ACT CIS Party-list); Abraham Tolentino (PDP-Laban, Cavite); and Claudine Bautista (DUMPER PSTD).
The defense panel was composed of Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Rep. Carlos Zarate and Reps. Rufus Rodriguez (Independent, Cagayan de Oro City); Edcel Lagman (Independent, Albay); and Sol Aragones (NPC, Laguna).
Coming up with its recommendations barely 15 hours after it was created, the TWG said it based its resolution from the records from the 12-day hearings, the summations presented by Marcoleta and Zarate and consultations with House members.
Damaging to the network’s cause to remain alive were the accusations of tax avoidance schemes, its “less than exemplary” treatment of workers, and allegations of biased reporting and meddling in political affairs.
Despite earning billions in annual revenues, ABS-CBN reportedly paid an income tax of ₱563.01 million over a three-year period from 2017 to 2019. Its main rival, GMA 7 gave government ₱3.13 billion during the same period.
“However, through corporate layering, taking advantage of wellknown tax havens such as Hungary Luxembourg and the Cayman Islands and even through the use of our own PEZA incentives, we see that only a minimal fraction is remitted to government,” the TWG lamented.
The alleged tax avoidance scheme was done through the setting up of the Big Dipper Corp., which took advantage of the tax incentives offered by the Philippine Export Zone Authority.
The TWG panel also cited the labor complaints filed by former employees, mostly triggered by the alleged failure of the network to regularize them despite the long years they have served the network.
On the question aired against the dual citizenship of ABS-CBN Chairman Emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III, the TWG said there “is a cloud of doubt” on his allegiance to the Philippines.
Lopez was born in Boston, Massachusetts, from Filipino parents Conchita and Eugenio Lopez. He automatically acquired American citizenship but registered for dual citizenship as Filipino-American before the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Immigration.
Marcoleta and Defensor, who both stressed that the Constitution specifically provides for full Filipino citizenship for media owners, insisted that there was no showing that Lopez’s mother was a Filipino.
“Mr. Lopez himself does not have a Philippine government-issued birth certificate which could have served as conclusive proof that he is a Filipino citizen,” the TWG said.
The controversy over the issuance by ABS-CBN of the Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) that were sold to foreigners was also raised, with the Securities and Exchange Commission declaring nothing wrong with the business deals.
“ABS-CBN’s PDRs appear to have allowed foreigners a measure of control in the company which could have violated the 1987 Constitution,” the TWG stated.
“Given that the network is a mass media entity required to be 100 percent Filipino-owned and managed, and noting its stature and influence in the Philippine society and public policy, ABS-CBN should have been circumspect to avoid any doubts or suspicion of impropriety from its scheme of allowing foreigners to hold PDRs corresponding to shareholdings in ABS-CBN,” the body warned.
The network’s contention that it did not violate the constitutional provision for a 50-year limit on franchises was upheld by the TWG.
However, the three-man panel questioned ABS-CBN’s inability to convince the committee that the process for the return of the network by government was followed.
It was recalled that the network was seized by the government during martial law and was returned by the incoming government administration following the collapse of the Marcos government in 1986.
The TWG backed Marcoleta’s claim that ABS-CBN TV Plus Box system should have required a separate legislative franchise and that it violated its own franchise when it imposed fees for public access to its Kapamilya Box Office pay-per-view channel.