What happened with ABS-CBN’s woes in the past days? Here’s a summary

February 28, 2020 - 10:47 AM
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ABS-CBN employees, supporters and other rights groups calling for the network's franchise renewal (The STAR/Miguel De Guzman)

After years of repeated threats against embattled broadcast giant ABS-CBN, President Rodrigo Duterte finally changed his tune on the network when he accepted the apology of its top executive.

Carlo Katigbak, ABS-CBN president and chief executive officer, apologized to Duterte for the network’s shortcomings during the national elections back in 2016—failing to air then presidential bet’s political advertisements worth P7 million and instead, putting out a commercial sponsored by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who would become among the president’s most vocal critics.

The failure to air the ads was among the reasons for Duterte’s ire against the media giant since the start of his presidency. He had also accused the network of being too critical of him and his policies in its news reporting.

On Wednesday Duterte responded to Katigbak’s apology and told: “Yes, nandiyan ‘yan. I accept the apology of course.”

The network’s future, however, is still uncertain. Duterte clarified that the decision of ABS-CBN’s franchise’s renewal is still up to the decision of the 18th Congress.

The congressional franchise provided by Republic Act 7966 is set to expire on May 4 this year, rather than the previously reported March 30 deadline.

Five bills were filed for its extension for another 25 years. If these were not signed into law by then, ABS-CBN had to shut down its television and radio operations.

Aside from legal setback, Solicitor General Jose Calida also filed a quo warranto petition, the same remedy used to oust Maria Lourdes Sereno in 2018, to revoke ABS-CBN’s franchise due to alleged violations.

What happened during and after the Senate hearing?

The franchise renewal was also tackled during the hearing led by the Senate committee on Public Services last February 24.

At the Senate inquiry, Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, former presidential aide, accused ABS-CBN of black propaganda for airing the Trillanes-funded commercial instead of Duterte’s own TV campaign ads.

Katigbak immediately apologized for the shortcomings more than four years ago.

“We are sorry if we offended the President (by airing the Trillanes ad). That was not the intention of the network. We felt that we were just abiding by regulations that surround the airing of political ads,” Katigbak said.

He also stressed there was no political motive behind it.

“Today, we want to make a categorical statement together with our chairman Mark Lopez that ABS does not and will not have its own political agenda,” the ABS-CBN president said.

Veteran movie and television director Joel Lamangan, who spoke on behalf of filmmakers’ group Directors Guild of the Philippines, and Jon Villanueva, president of ABS-CBN’s Rank and File Employees’ Union were also given opportunities to express their positions on the matter.

Lamangan stressed on the possible impact of the non-renewal to the development of arts and culture in the Philippines while Villanueva expressed worry over the future of around 11,000 workers who might stand to lose jobs should the franchise lapse.

ABS-CBN defended itself against the allegations indicated in Calida’s quo warranto petition, wherein:

  1. It is supposedly owned by foreign investors.
  2. It is operating without a permit from the National Telecommunications Commission.
  3. It has an “ingenious corporate layering scheme” without Congressional approval.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Bureau of Internal Revenue also stated that the broadcast giant did not commit any legal violations.

The NTC, meanwhile, acknowledged that ABS-CBN went ahead with its pay-per-view services without its approval.

However, based on the Public Service Act, such violation is only liable to a fine worth P200 and not a ground for revocation.

Go merely echoed Duterte’s sentiments as his response.

“Hindi mababaw ang rason ng Pangulo sa kanyang grievances against the network. Nasaktan at nababoy ang Presidente. Hindi vindictive ang Pangulo. But it’s clear someone went overboard,” the neophyte senator said.

Following the hearing, the House requested the NTC to grant ABS-CBN provisional authority to operate starting from May 4, the expiry date of the franchise, until the time the Congress reached a decision if ABS-CBN will cease operations or not.

Concerning the quo warranto measure, the SC also has yet to announce a decision on the company’s license.