‘How about GMA?’: Arguments raised as solon hurls old accusations vs ABS-CBN in House hearing

May 26, 2020 - 8:34 PM
Rodante Marcoleta
Rep. Rodate Marcoleta (Sagip party-list) in an undated photo. (Photo from SAGIP Partylist via Facebook)

Some of the recycled allegations of House Deputy Speaker Rep. Rodante Marcoleta (Sagip Party-list) against ABS-CBN‘s franchise renewal were juxtaposed with its main rival network which had its franchise renewed before expiration.

Marcoleta, who landed on local Twitter’s top trending list on Tuesday afternoon due to his accusations, was part of the House panel that convened to tackle the fresh 25-year franchise that would be granted to Channel 2.

The lower chamber’s committee on legislative franchises met with the House committee on good government and public accountability with the aim to “determine” if ABS-CBN merits a congressional grant and “to ferret out the truth” on allegations against the network.

ABS-CBN’s radio and television broadcast operations, including its regional offices, went off the air on May 5 after the National Telecommunications Commission issued a cease-and-desist order against the firm “due to the expiration of its congressional franchise.” 

During the inquiry, Marcoleta renewed accusations that were previously hurled at the embattled media company such as alleged tax evasion, purported violation of workers’ rights and foreign ownership, among others.

Some of his claims have previously been addressed by various government agencies at an earlier Senate hearing but not by the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, Filipinos who were able to watch the hearing couldn’t help but break down some of Marcoleta’s accusations and point out that GMA Network had its franchise renewed despite having similar circumstances with its rival network.

On franchise years  

Marcoleta claimed that ABS-CBN “has been using the airwaves for more than 50 years” already, adding that the Philippine Constitution can only grant a franchise for 50 years.

“Hindi na dapat payagan ang pag-renew ng ABS-CBN. Dapat isara na ang pinto sa kanila because the ABS-CBN has been using the airwaves for more than 50 years,” the lawmaker said.

ABS-CBN broadcast journalist Karen Davila called Marcoleta’s argument “strange.”

“This is such a strange argument. Cong Marcoleta says ABS-CBN has been operating more than 50 years & that’s against the law. GMA7 TV was launched in 1961. So that means they’ve been operating 59 years. Is that against the law? Just a question,” she wrote.

GMA Network’s 25-year franchise, granted through Republic Act 7252, was renewed on April 21, 2017, 22 days before its expiration.

The previous franchise was only valid up to May 12, 2017 but it was renewed by President Rodrigo Duterte under Republic Act 10925.

On ‘foreign ownership’

Marcoleta also alleged ABS-CBN is supposedly foreign-owned because of its Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDR), which refers to a security granting the holder the right to the delivery or sale of the underlying shares of stocks.

“With the many rights afforded to the holders of these PDRs, most of whom, if not all, are foreigners, ABS-CBN virtually allowed these foreign holders beneficial ownership and potential voting rights,” he claimed.

A man runs outside the ABS-CBN network headquarters where candles are lit following government orders to cease its operations, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines May 5, 2020. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

Twitter user @crankyherbie recalled that GMA Network also made use of PDRs.

“GMA7 also issues PDRs and yet their franchise was RENEWED,” he said.

Fact-checker VERA Files reported that GMA Network also issued PDRs to raise capital for the improvement of its services.

A corporate lawyer previously mentioned that there was nothing wrong with ABS-CBN having PDRs since it merely gives owners “the right to receive dividends from the issuer.”

The media giant also explained in a 58-page comment that having PDRs is “not equivalent to the full beneficial ownership rights of the stakeholders” of the network.

On labor cases

Marcoleta likewise accused ABS-CBN of committing alleged labor violations and claimed that the company was supposedly not giving its employees government-mandated benefits.

Napakarami nang labor cases na hinarap at haharapin pa ng ABS-CBN. Ang masaklap pa dito, ni hindi nagbibigay ang ABS-CBN ng contribution sa benefits (nila),” he said

In response, Twitter user @crankyherbie pointed out that GMA Network has its own labor case but was granted a renewal of its franchise.

The Court of Appeals in February this year ordered 51 talents of Channel 7 to be reinstated without being stripped off their privileges after becoming involved in protests against GMA Network.

Meanwhile, ABS-CBN has been cleared by the Department of Labor and Employment against alleged labor violations in a Senate hearing conducted in the same month.

A former executive of the network said that its employees even get “above the mandated benefits of the government” which include the Social Security System, the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation and the Home Development Mutual Fund.

A freelance scriptwriter took to Twitter to attest to this and claimed he has been receiving benefits even if he is not a regular employee of ABS-CBN.

He claimed that he receives SSS and Philhealth benefits, as well as perks such as medical insurance covering his parents, free mental health consultations, sack of rice stub convertible to cash and cafeteria food.

“Hindi ako regular employee pero lahat ng employee benefits na binanggit ko sa taas, natatanggap naming mga contractual/project-based. Ang lamang lang ng regular sa non-regular sa benefits, may sarili silang parking space, tsaka ‘pag xmas party ‘yung tables nila nasa unahan ng stage,” the writer claimed.