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Cavite rep seeks revival of House probe into alleged ABS-CBN violations

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Cavite rep seeks revival of House probe into alleged ABS-CBN violations
File photo dated May 6 shows a security guard passing by the logo of ABS-CBN Corporation at the network’s facade a day it was shut down by the National Telecommunications Commission.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. (Cavite 4th District), among the chief accusers of broadcast giant ABS-CBN Corp. when its franchise bid was killed in July 2020, has called for the reopening of a congressional investigation into the alleged violations by the embattled media company.

In a statement sent to reporters Tuesday, Barzaga, who sits as vice chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Franchises, said there was a need to revisit the issues raised against ABS-CBN "to determine if the company had corrected the legal infringements and the other violations that led to the denial of its legislative franchise in 2020."

It was understood that the House committee voted to reject ABS-CBN's application for a franchise as a penalty for violations that government agencies told lawmakers were either non-existent or had already been addressed.

"These legal and constitutional issues include the possible violations committed by ABS-CBN on the constitutional limits on foreign ownership, its reported violations of labor and tax laws, and other violations of its previous franchise," Barzaga said. 

READ: DOJ: Gabby Lopez a Filipino citizen since birth

Barzaga claimed a reinvestigation by the House could even benefit the company, saying President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. earlier said ABS-CBN would be able to secure a new franchise "once all the issues against it are resolved."

"We have to find out if ABS-CBN has been following the law or continuing to violate or circumvent it,” Barzaga also said in his statement Tuesday.

Though a broadcast company’s legislative franchise does not equate to one channel, a franchise is equivalent to one frequency.

Licensing is necessary because of the limited broadcast frequencies. But ABS-CBN's frequencies have since been to other media entities, while ALLTV, which took over ABS-CBN’s former Channel 2 frequency on free TV, officially went live on September 13. 

ALLTV is owned by the Advanced Media Broadcasting System or AMBS, whose parent company is the Villar group-owned Streamtech Systems Technologies, Inc.

READ: Potential ABS-CBN shutdown a loss for Filipino audiences and culture too, scholars note

But the issues are already resolved

The 18th Congress denied the application of ABS-CBN for a new 25-year franchise on the supposed ground that the firm had violated the constitutional limits on foreign ownership in issuing Philippine Depositary Receipts to foreigners. Former President Rodrigo Duterte has since admitted to influencing the move with his powers and his supermajority in both chambers of Congress at the time.

But the issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts do not indicate transfer of ownership to foreigners, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission at the hearings. 

Separate legal opinions from the justice department and the Bureau of Immigration at the time also stated that ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Gabby Lopez is a Filipino holding dual-citizenship.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority also both cleared the broadcast giant of the so-called violations being held against them, saying ABS-CBN pays their due taxes and has no tax shields.

Barzaga clamed that ABS-CBN initially attempted to merge with TV5 to ride on its legislative franchise. The investment deal between the two networks was dropped when several lawmakers announced that they planned to investigate the deal.

After the scrapped investment agreement, the company inked another agreement, this time with international cable channels Discovery Asia and the Asian Food Network.

Barzaga said he sees no possible violation of this agreement but said: "[W]e do not know if there are other deals that ABS-CBN has entered into which need to be reviewed to find out if they are violating the law."

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