Insisting on ABS-CBN's debunked 'violations' is disinformation from Congress — nat'l network

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Insisting on ABS-CBN's debunked 'violations' is disinformation from Congress � nat'l network
“There is a time and a season for every activity under the heavens,” Cayetano wrote, quoting the third chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible.
Alan Peter Cayetano on Facebook

MANILA, Philippines — A network of journalists, academics, and civil society representatives on Monday evening condemned a House panel's denial of ABS-CBN Corp.'s franchise bid, saying government agencies had already addressed allegations against the broadcast giant.

On Friday, an overwhelming 70 lawmakers made good on President Rodrigo Duterte's threat that he would shut down ABS-CBN, denying the network's bid for a new franchise and effectively leaving over 11,000 jobless in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, the Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation slammed Congress' attempts at upholding the alleged violations held against the broadcast giant despite government agencies saying otherwise as disinformation. 

"Despite the manifest unfairness of the hearings conducted, and the miraculously efficient 40-page report the Technical Working Group released 24 hours or so after the last hearing, the Cayetano Congress could not and cannot stop the truth from coming out: Other government agencies proved that the main issues thrown against ABS-CBN were baseless," the statement read. 

Both the justice department and the Bureau of Immigration hold the legal opinion that ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Gabby Lopez is a Filipino despite holding dual-citizenship, though both agencies have been labeled as inconsequential by House lawmakers. The labor department has also said that the company is compliant to its standards despite the presence of a number of cases. 

An issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts also do not indicate the transfer of ownership to foreigners, the Securities and Exchange Commission said, while ABS-CBN pays their due taxes and has no tax shields, according to both the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority.

"For the Cayetano Congress to minimize these agencies' findings and insist that these issues remain valid is to spread disinformation," the network added in its statement. 

'Reclaiming patrimony from oligarchs'

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who has four relatives holding elected positions in government, wrote in a lengthy and impassioned essay on his Facebook page on Monday that the junking of the company's franchise bit was more about "reclaiming patrimony from oligarchs" than it was about the freedom of the press. 

Despite Rep. Mike Defensor (Anakalusugan Party-list), one of the network's chief accusers, sitting as chairman and CEO of a mining firm that was once suspended by the government, Cayetano slammed "the grip of the oligarchs on the vital socio-economic interests that run our country," framing the junking as a fight against a shadowy cabal of oligarchs rather than a flagrant affront to press freedom in the country. 

Cayetano, Duterte's former running mate who has historically voted in favor of the chief executive's decisions and who was among those who accused ABS-CBN Corp. of political biases, unsurprisingly defended the votes against the company, saying that the "oligarchs" behind the company were lower than "terrorists." 

"Unlike terrorists, Oligarchs are able to fully use our legal system to victimize the people. They field dekampanilya attorneys who expertly twist the law to suit their commercial interests," he said. 

"Yes, their methods for avoiding taxes in the billions of pesos may appear “legal,” but how can you argue that putting that much money in the pockets of one family, instead of having it benefit the millions of Filipinos who desperately need it, is in any way right or moral?"

Cayetano was not shy about expressing his adoration for his former running-mate, heaping praises upon praises on the president for opposing the status quo and writing that Duterte's administration transformed the nation's politics "like a plough upturning the barren, hard-packed earth to allow fresh, fertile soil to come to the surface."

The House Speaker also went as far as saying that Duterte, who vetoed the anti-endo bill despite making a campaign promise to follow through with it, held rich corporations to account throughout his term. 

RELATED: Upsetting key campaign promise, Duterte officially vetoes anti-endo bill

"Duterte, despite all the roadblocks that have been thrown at him by his critics, has been largely successful in leveling the playing field. He has called out those who abuse the system, and has held them accountable on a scale that has never been seen before," he said. 

"By loosening the grip of the oligarchs on the vital socio-economic interests that run our country, he has revitalized a citizenry that has become jaded with the empty promises of politicians," he added. 

Defensor on Thursday also slammed the Lopez family for what he said was its “power generation” via Meralco that perpetuates "an oligarchic state that continues to suppress our people." The Lopez family has not owned Meralco for years.

"For those who continue to push the Freedom of the Press card, Congress is not stifling the right of any journalist, host, commentator, talent, or employee of ABSCBN - or any Filipino for that matter - from criticizing the government. We simply put an end to the privilege of one family in using a public resource to protect and promote their private interests," he wrote. 

Press freedom

Rep. Rodante Marcoleta (Sagip Party-list), also one of the network's chief accusers, said that it is the will of Congress—which is dominated by administration allies—that should be accorded due respect.

"It is not the view of the Securities and Exchange Commission that matters here. It is not the opinion of the Department of Justice that will prevail here [or] the Bureau of Immigration or other agencies," he said. 

The Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation in its statement called this pronouncement an abuse of the lawmaker's constitutionally-granted powers in order to spread disinformation. 

"The worst disinformation is to assert that denying the country's largest news network a new franchise is not a press freedom issue. The TWG report itself devotes four pages to matters of editorial content: alleged 'biased reporting, inappropriate program content, and political meddling,'" it said. 

Nowhere in the company's former franchise are the words “bias”, “morality”, “fairness” or even "journalism" mentioned. 

Furor from media groups has only gotten louder since the decision. One statement signed by over 500 workers in the industry read: "The 70 lawmakers clearly want to treat the press as a propaganda machine that will serve their political interests, embellish their image, and parrot their spin."

Both Duterte and Cayetano have said they have personal grievances with it, with the former once saying that if it were up to him, the company's franchise would not be renewed. 

"Insisting on the so-called will of Congress at the expense of the truth is an abuse of power that damages essential traditions and institutions: predictability of rules, accountability of government officials, evidence-based policy-making. The Cayetano Congress used this will to prevent a news organization, however imperfect, from speaking truth to power," the consortium wrote.

"That's the truth."

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