Senate tackles ABS-CBN franchise renewal as deadline looms

The Senate Committee on Public Services took the lead in hearing arguments for and against the hotly-contested renewal of the broadcasting franchise of the Philippines’ most widely watched network.

The Senate Committee on Public Services on Monday held a hearing to tackle measures seeking to renew the broadcasting franchise of media giant ABS-CBN Corporation, less than three weeks before Congress adjourns March 14.

The hearing tackled two resolutions: Senate Resolution No. 322 seeking an investigation into ABS-CBN's compliance with its current franchise, and Senate Joint Resolution No. 11 extending the network’s license until December 31, 2022 to give Congress more time to deliberate on its application for renewal.

Industry experts and members of various broadcasting companies joined lawmakers in examining the various issues presented against ABS-CBN. ABS-CBN executives also appeared at the hearing to respond to the issues raised by Solicitor General Jose Calida in a separate quo warranto filed before the Supreme Court.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra pointed out that franchise renewal and quo warranto are two separate issues. According to him, the petition for quo warranto is an independent case and clearly separated from the renewal grant case of ABS-CBN which is set to expire in March.

Addressing the claims of the quo warranto petition, ABS-CBN President/CEO Carlo Katigbak vigorously denied that the network has violated the terms of his franchise. While admitting that the network may have made some mistakes in the past, Katigbak was adamant in saying that the company had not broken any law. He also shared that the network has been operating based on its mission to be in the service of the Filipino people.

Countering the allegations of tax evasion lodged against ABS-CBN in the quo warranto petition, representatives from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) reported that the network has been compliant with regulations and did not violate any corporate laws, contrary to allegations lodged against them. Katigbak waived confidentiality and allowed BIR to disclose the P14.3 billion tax paid by the network from 2016 to 2019.

Senator Bong Go also raised issues involving then-presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, whose paid political ads were not aired during the campaign season. Go presented a paid advertisement by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV showing clips of Duterte cursing and children maligning his controversial rape remarks.

Go insisted that ABS-CBN chose to air that “black propaganda” campaign instead of showing the “legitimate ones” which were already paid by Duterte.

"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," Go said.

ABS-CBN President/CEO Carlo Katigbak denied the company having any ill intention towards Duterte, noting that ABS-CBN “does not and will not have its own political agenda.” Nevertheless, Katigbak also apologized to the President for offending him through these actions.

Apparently satisfied with the answers of Katigbak, Go said after the hearing that he will appeal to Duterte to reconsider his stance on the franchise renewal, as the jobs of 11,000 workers are at stake should the network’s license not be renewed.

Meanwhile the chairman of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, Palawan 1st District Congressman Franz Alvarez, expressed that the lower chamber will formally take up the pending franchise bills once all position papers have been submitted and are reviewed and evaluated.

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