ABS-CBN president apologizes to Duterte

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
ABS-CBN president apologizes to Duterte
ABS-CBN president and chief executive officer Carlo Katigbak issued the apology at a Senate committee hearing after Sen. Christopher Go demanded an explanation on why the network failed to air Duterte’s political ads worth P7 million and, instead, put out a “black propaganda” commercial funded by then senator Antonio Trillanes IV.
Boy Santos / File

MANILA, Philippines — Top executives of ABS-CBN apologized yesterday to President Duterte for failing to air his political advertisements in the 2016 elections, but it was unclear whether the Chief Executive would accept what the Palace said was a long overdue apology.

“It has been a while since it happened. They only apologized after they were lambasted. It’s up to the President. I don’t know how to respond to that. It’s a personal decision,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said at a press briefing when asked whether Duterte would accept the broadcast giant’s apology. “Dapat noon pa nila ginawa (They should have done that a long time ago).”

ABS-CBN president and chief executive officer Carlo Katigbak issued the apology at a Senate committee hearing after Sen. Christopher Go demanded an explanation on why the network failed to air Duterte’s political ads worth P7 million and, instead, put out a “black propaganda” commercial funded by then senator Antonio Trillanes IV.

The commercial, which also aired on other networks but was later banned by a Taguig City regional trial court, featured children asking whether or not a cursing politician is fit to be president.

“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 told the panel chaired by Sen. Grace Poe.

The network also maintained that it does not have a political agenda.

“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,” Katigbak said.

He explained that Duterte’s campaign team bought commercial spots – P117 million for national ads and P65 million for local ads – for a total of P182 million, and the network has a policy of first-come, first served on such placements.

The ads were ordered on May 3 or just four days before the last day of campaign and there were already previous placements from other buyers, Katigbak said, adding that local ads were limited to only two minutes per hour as policy.

All of Duterte’s national ads were aired, he stressed.

Katigbak said the network was able to refund P4 million to Duterte. But the refund of the remaining P2.6 million got delayed, which was not accepted by the President’s camp.

He explained that ABS-CBN rejected the first version of the ad as it did not follow industry and network standards.

“Any politician who comes to our station with an ad that is legal and legitimate must be accommodated. We continue to improve on our shortcomings. We hope we do a better job in the succeeding elections,” Katigbak said.

Panelo said he was “glad” that ABS-CBN finally “admitted its shortcomings to the President.”

“That’s what the President has been saying. You know you did something wrong... Did you do anything about it? None. That’s what he called hubris. You are too arrogant,” the Palace spokesman said.

He added that ABS-CBN was wrong about airing the Trillanes anti-Duterte commercial because it showed “minors being used in black propaganda.”

Panelo reiterated that the executive branch would not interfere in the Senate’s performance of its duties. Nevertheless, he could not help but comment on the discussions on whether the Senate has the authority to tackle the issues on the ABS-CBN franchise.

“I was watching them, they spent two hours discussing whether they have the authority to do that or not. I cannot even understand. You are not sure about your job, why debate about it?” he said. “They wasted time discussing something that they should have known at the very inception. But certainly they’re not wasting time discussing the subject matter.”

Panelo also expressed belief that the Senate hearing is not covered by the sub judice rule because it is a separate branch of government.

Bad experiences

During the hearing, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Sen. Francis Pangilinan also recounted, in separate manifestations, similar experiences of placing millions of pesos worth of ads that were not aired.

“We have grievances but we also think of the bigger picture, including the lives of 11,000 workers,” Pangilinan said.

Sens. Nancy Binay and Joel Villanueva also recounted bad experiences with media coverage in general, especially during electoral campaigns, but said the matter of the ABS-CBN franchise was a much bigger issue to be drowned by individual complaints.

Prior to Go’s questioning, Sen. Lito Lapid asked the ABS-CBN executives why they thought Duterte was mad at them, and whether or not this was the first time the network is having difficulties renewing its franchise.

Lopez and Katigbak said what they know is only what they read in the media and what Duterte says in his speeches.

Multi-awarded film director Joel Lamangan, one of the resource persons at yesterday’s hearing, urged the lawmakers to discuss measures that would enrich artistic freedom and not the end of ABS-CBN operations.

He said he is saddened because the hearing was about whether or not to end the franchise of ABS-CBN, which has been serving as an effective platform of freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said the possible non-renewal and eventual closure of ABS-CBN would create a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

“We believe that the Filipino people have a stake in the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise. It’s not because of ABS-CBN but the greater issue of freedom of the press and of expression,” said NUJP chair Nonoy Espina. – With Alexis Romero, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Mayen Jaymalin, Delon Porcalla

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