The ABS-CBN network can afford to pay any tax obligations if it wants the chance to return on air, according to Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo.
Panelo gave the friendly advice to the Lopez-owned network to comply with the country's tax laws, saying the corporation made a killing in the past and and could earn more in the future anyway.
The country's top broadcast station went off air after its franchise lapsed last year. The network failed to get its 25-year franchise renewed in Congress, forcing it to lay off some workers and shift broadcast operations to digital and cable channels.
"Kung ako naman kayo, ito naman ay payong kaibigan. Marami tayong kaibigan diyan. Tingnan ninyo mabuti. If you really see na mayroon naman kayong naiwasan na mga buwis na dapat ninyong mabayaran, eh after all, kayo naman po nagkamal na kayo ng marami ng profits, ilang taon na 'yan kaya nga kayo lumaki nang lumaki. Ibig sabihin mayroon kayong pambayad, bayaran na lang ninyo (If I were you, this is a friendly advice -- I have many friends there -- take a good a look. If you really see that you avoided tax payments, after all, you have earned huge profits for many years that's why you became so big, it means you have money to pay so just pay)," Panelo said during his “Counterpoint” program Tuesday, Feb.9.
"Kaya pag-aralan ninyong maagi. Magbayad na lang kayo ng buwis. Ano ba naman 'yun. Pera lang 'yun. Kikitain ninyo rin 'yun (So study it carefully. Just pay your taxes. That's just money. You'll earn more anyway)," he added.
The President, in a televised address Monday, Feb. 8, vowed to block ABS-CBN network from resuming its free tv and radio operations unless it settles its supposed unpaid taxes.
Duterte said even if ABS-CBN secures a fresh franchise from Congress, he would not allow the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to grant the network a permit to operate. Allowing the network to operate was like giving a "prize for committing criminal acts," according to the President.
Duterte also questioned the alleged condonation of the loans of Lopez-affiliated companies from the Development Bank of the Philippines, saying he will pass the information to the Office of the Ombudsman to look into the matter.
Panelo defended the President's latest decision, saying he was authorized to enforce the country's laws, including tax regulations, even if the network gets a new franchise to operate.
"You must remember the President is chief enforcer of laws," he pointed out.
"Pag sa ilalim ng batas, ang isang kumpanya ay dapat magbayad ng buwis, dapat ipatupad ni presidente 'yun kaya nasa tama siya doon (When the law says a company must pay taxes, the president must enforce the law so he is right there)," he said.
Panelo said ABS-CBN would likely claim it had no outstanding debts to the government. The problem, however, is the network allegedly avoided certain tax payments based on a recent congressional inquiry, the President's lawyer said.
The President also has obtained information concerning the alleged irregular disposal of the loans of Lopez-affiliated companies from a government bank, he added.
On Tuesday Feb. 9, Malacañang said the President would leave the investigation into the Lopez loans to the Office of the Ombudsman.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Ombudsman would review if there is cause of action for any violation of the country's anti-graft law.