“Amazing how this reminds me of the old Japanese movie Rashomon, where a murder is described by different witnesses, and none of the accounts tally with each other,” Dominguez said when asked to comment on ABS-CBN president and chief executive officer Carlo Katigbak’s statements during a Senate hearing on the TV network’s franchise last Monday.
STAR/File
Dominguez questions ABS-CBN ad account
Mary Grace Padin (The Philippine Star) - February 26, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, President Duterte’s campaign finance manager during the 2016 elections, said ABS-CBN’s account of unaired political ads did not match with what the campaign team experienced.

“Amazing how this reminds me of the old Japanese movie Rashomon, where a murder is described by different witnesses, and none of the accounts tally with each other,” Dominguez said when asked to comment on ABS-CBN president and chief executive officer Carlo Katigbak’s statements during a Senate hearing on the TV network’s franchise last Monday.

“Sen. Bong Go told me what he said which is what I know happened, and from what I read, his account does not tally with the account of what the executives of ABS-CBN said,” he alleged.

When pressed for details, Dominguez did not provide the exact amounts involved in the transaction with ABS-CBN.

“I no longer have the financial records of the campaign as these were turned over to the auditors and lawyers right after the 2016 election,” he said.

The finance chief also clarified that he did not deal directly with the networks.

Last Monday, the network CEO issued an apology to the President after Go demanded an explanation as to why the network failed to air Duterte’s political ads worth P7 million and, instead, put out what he called “black propaganda” commercial funded by then senator Antonio Trillanes IV.

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

He said the ads were ordered on May 3, 2016, or just four days before the last day of campaigning and there were already previous placements from other buyers, and that local ads were limited to only two minutes per hour as policy.

Nevertheless, Katigbak stressed that all of Duterte’s national ads were aired.

He 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.

No cause for worry

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano reiterated his assurances that there will not be any shutdown of the giant network, pointing out that violations of the legislative franchise – should there be any – will not necessarily mean automatic shutdown.

“The issue is franchise, the law. Did they violate the franchise? Did they violate the law? If the answer is no, then grant the franchise,” the administration stalwart told reporters in a chance interview Monday afternoon.

“If the answer to that is that there were some violations, then what is the appropriate penalty and what reforms can be offered so that this does not happen again? For me, it’s that simple,” Cayetano explained.

It was the Office of the Solicitor General that filed a petition for quo warranto against ABS-CBN, alleging that the broadcasting giant “has been broadcasting for a fee,” which was “an abuse (of) the privilege granted by the State when it launched and operated a pay-per-view channel in ABS-CBN TV Plus, the KBO Channel, without prior approval or permit from the National Telecommunications Commission.”

Passing the buck

Senators hit yesterday the move of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), in passing to the Senate the responsibility of providing legal justification for the agency’s issuance of a provisional permit to ABS-CBN, as the House of Representatives is not expected to act on the network’s franchise renewal application before it expires on May 4 this year.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, in separate interviews, said the NTC on its own can issue a provisional authority to the network – as it has done in numerous cases in the past when franchisees were allowed to continue to operate while their application for renewal of franchise remained pending in Congress – pointing out that no less than Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra supported their position at the hearing of the public services committee on Monday.

“I’m just wondering why they want a resolution from us when in the previous expired franchises, they never asked for one. Why are they placing the burden on us? They should be decisive enough to act,” Sotto told reporters.

He said it appeared NTC officials have become fainthearted on the issue just because a quo warranto case and a petition for a gag order were filed against ABS-CBN before the Supreme Court (SC).

Guevarra told the committee, chaired by Sen. Grace Poe, that the NTC can issue a provisional permit to the network based on the principle of “equity” but it would be better if Congress passes a concurrent resolution asking the agency to do so as a legal cover.

NTC’s Gamaliel Cordoba, however, told the hearing the commission sought a legal opinion from the Department of Justice (DOJ) because of the circumstances of ABS-CBN’s case even as he insisted on the Senate and the House passing a resolution before they could act.

Upon questioning from senators, Cordoba admitted that the provisional authority can be withdrawn any time if the network violates the terms and conditions of the temporary permit, which prompted Drilon to warn that such a situation poses threats to the editorial content of ABS-CBN and press freedom.

Drilon is set to file today a concurrent resolution seeking to allow ABS-CBN to operate until the end of the 18th Congress in 2022.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan expressed his full support for Drilon’s resolution but cautioned that the House of Representatives, where the ABS-CBN franchise bill should emanate, may not support it.

The Constitution provides that local bills and franchises should be discussed and passed first by the House before the Senate can tackle them, but the former has yet to initiate the discussion about the ABS-CBN franchise, with Congress going on recess by March 12.

Cebu Rep. Raul del Mar yesterday filed Joint Resolution 28 seeking to extend the validity of ABS-CBN’s congressional franchise until July 30, 2022.

It was referred to the House committee on legislative franchises – headed by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez – during the plenary session Monday.

Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, who heads the House committee on rules, acted with dispatch and referred the resolution right away to the Alvarez committee

‘Guidance’ instead of ‘opinion’

Guevarra said he would release the guidance for the NTC on the ABS-CBN franchise today.

“We will reply to the NTC tomorrow (Wednesday) but will issue guidance instead of a formal legal opinion,” said Guevarra.

He earlier said he would not be issuing a legal opinion on the ABS-CBN franchise since the question involved a private entity. He also deferred to Congress to resolve the matter.

He explained that they issued a legal opinion on the pay-per-view in 2018 but would not give formal opinion on the question asked by NTC, because the legal opinion sought two years ago was more general in scope, unlike the NTC query that concerns a specific private entity.

Regularization of workers

Meanwhile, Sen. Risa Hontiveros urged ABS-CBN to put the welfare of its employees as a top priority by regularizing their contractual employees.

Hontiveros said the network should commit to improve its labor practices, settle contractualization issues and provide job security to its workers, once the franchise is renewed.

“We need a pro-worker franchise,” Hontiveros said during the Senate committee on public services hearing on the alleged violations of the media giant on its franchise.

While ABS-CBN has at least 7,000 regular employees, only 300 are members of the union. The rest of the 6,700 regular workers enjoy wages 50 percent higher than union members’ salaries. – With Delon Porcalla, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Evelyn Macairan

ABS-CBN CARLOS DOMINGUEZ III
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