Marcoleta insists ABS-CBN violated laws, franchise despite contrary testimonies

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Press freedom and labor advocates and ABS-CBN Employees hold a prayer and candle lighting outside the ABS-CBN compound on July 9, 2020. The House Committee on Legislative Franchise held its summations of arguments on the broadcast network’s 25-year franchise earlier in the day. Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News

MANILA – A party-list lawmaker on Thursday summed up the reasons against granting ABS-CBN Corp. a new franchise, saying it violated the Constitution and the terms of its congressional license despite testimonies from various government agencies countering these claims. 

Rep. Rodante Marcoleta insisted that ABS-CBN Chairman Emeritus Gabby Lopez should not be allowed to own shares in a media company because he is an American citizen, despite an earlier testimony from the justice department that Lopez is a Filipino citizen who can legally own shares in a mass media company. 

He said the principle of jus sanguinis or citizenship by blood may not apply to the former president and CEO of ABS-CBN Corp. because there is no proof that his parents were Filipino citizens. 

“Without such evidence of Filipino citizenship of his parents at the time of his birth, the principle of jus sanguinis could not have benefited Mr. Lopez,” he said. 

Marcoleta said ABS-CBN's Philippine Deposit Receipts (PDRs) allowed foreigners to own shares in ABS-CBN, despite testimonies from the Securities and Exchange Commission that the company's PDRs are legal. 

He insisted that holders of PDRs “are deemed beneficial owners of the underlying stocks of ABS-CBN with corporate-control-enhancing mechanisms that can influence the major corporate actions that management may institute.”

ABS-CBN officials testified that the company's PDRs do not allow holders to vote in ABS-CBN Corp.’s board or participate in management. 

Marcoleta said that ABS-CBN was evading taxes by registering its subsidiary, Big Dipper, in the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) to get fiscal incentives. 

PEZA chair Charito Plaza testified last week that Big Dipper qualified for PEZA incentives. 

Marcoleta also said that ABS-CBN was not paying proper taxes despite clearances issued to it by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). He insisted that BIR clearances also didn’t mean that the company was paying proper taxes, and that the company could be investigated again. 

The SAGIP party-list lawmaker said the statements of the Department of Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Bureau of Immigration, and other government agencies weighed little as it is Congress alone that grants franchises.

“It is the will of Congress that should be accorded due respect simply because it is Congress that has the sole and ultimate authority to grant or deny application of franchises,” Marcoleta said. 

Marcoleta also accused ABS-CBN of political bias.

“Kahit magtago pa ito sa doktrina ng press freedom at fair comment, alam na natin ito.” 

(Even if you hide behind the doctrine of press freedom and fair comment, we already know this.)

He said that favored candidates get exposure in the network through interviews on news programs and guestings in entertainment shows. 

But if the network doesn’t like you, you will get criticized, stories on you will be slanted, and you will not get the chance to defend or explain yourself, Marcoleta said. 

Last Monday, Marcoleta complained that the company did not report that he had been giving away free rice. 

Marcoleta said ABS-CBN’s TV Plus had multiple channels which he said are not allowed under its franchise. Its Kapamilya Box Office (KBO) pay-per-view service is not allowed either, Marcoleta insisted. 

ABS-CBN officials testified that these services complied with the NTC’s digital migration plan, and that regulators gave the go-signal for these operations. 

Marcoleta also said ABS-CBN engaged in usufruct when it used Amcara Broadcasting Company’s frequency to air its programs 21 hours daily. ABS-CBN and Amcara officials, however, have said that the blocktime deal does not violate the law and is a common practice in the broadcast industry. 

The deputy speaker also questioned the return of ABS-CBN to the Lopez family after the EDSA uprising in 1986. He said there was no record of the arbitration proceedings which led to the full return of the network's properties. 

The House legislative franchises committee could vote on the ABS-CBN franchise application tomorrow or next week.

(Editor's note: For the summation in favor of ABS-CBN's franchise, click here for the story) is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.

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