Allegations against ABS-CBN recycled anew at House hearing

Allegations against ABS-CBN recycled anew at House hearing
This photo taken March 23, 2020 shows the House of Representatives in a special session to tackle proposed measures to grant President Rodrigo Duterte with additional powers to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
The STAR / Felicer Santos

MANILA, Philippines — Rep. Rodante Marcoleta (Sagip Party-list), House Deputy Speaker, said at the House hearing Tuesday that ABS-CBN Corp., particularly the Lopez family, committed a litany of violations under the Constitution. 

"ABS-CBN deliberately and with impunity violated the conditions of its legislative franchise," he said. 

"These allegations have been around for so long. They weren't given attention. Why is that? Because people were scared of an influential network," he said. 

House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez said that the purpose of the hearing was to "determine if they merit the congressional grant of a legislative franchise and to "ferret out the truth" on allegations held against the broadcast giant."

For his part, though, Marcoleta hurled a number of allegations at the media company on different fronts, including the violation of workers rights under the Constitution, the use of multiple channels on its now-expired franchise, the foreign ownership, and alleged tax evasion. 

READ: ABS-CBN abides by tax, labor and corporate laws — gov't

Marcoleta also accused ABS-CBN of being biased towards former president Benigno Aquino III.

The same issues had already been addressed by government agencies—including the labor department, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and the Securities and Exchange Commission—at an earlier Senate hearing but not at the House of Representatives.

Calida absent

Solicitor General Jose Calida, who filed the first quo warranto petition asking the Supreme Court to void the company's franchise, was not present at the hearing.  

Rep. Jonathan Sy Alvarado (Bulacan) said the government's top lawyer "should be enjoined to attend future hearings and explain why he should not be held in contempt."

Not surprisingly, Calida was defended by House Speaker Cayetano, who asked for 'leniency' for Calida, saying he should be given a chance to speak in the next hearing.

READ: Calida won't attend House panel hearing on ABS-CBN franchise bills | NTC, through Calida, asks Supreme Court to junk ABS-CBN plea

Like President Rodrigo Duterte, Cayetano has in the past expressed having personal grievances against the network and historically voted in favor of the president's decisions.

The next hearing is set for Monday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Rep. Franz Alvarez (Palawan), who chairs the House’s Committee on Legislative Franchise, said.

'Innocent unless proven guilty'

Following the issuance of a cease and desist order by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the broadcast giant stopped its TV and radio broadcasts on May 5.

Media groups and journalists have called it an attack on press freedom, pointing to Duterte's many tirades against the company in the past. 

ABS-CBN Corp. CEO Carlo Katigbak, in his opening statement, maintained that the broadcast giant did nothing wrong.

"Social media is saying that we're just appealing to emotions and asking for pity. But I hope you listen to the people losing their livelihoods," he said in Filipino. 

"There have been many violations thrown against us, saying the law is the law. We agree that the law is the law, and under the law, we are innocent unless proven guilty. Up until now, there is no law that has found us guilty," he added. 

The company's networks were not given the opportunity to respond to Marcoleta's accusations before the session was suspended. 

"ABS-CBN deserves a future only if it has made your lives better," Katigbak said. — Franco Luna

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