The answer to a political question is always politics!
AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - July 13, 2020 - 12:00am

I was personally hoping for magic to have worked in favor of ABS-CBN, but 70 members of the House of Representatives voted to “kill”, as their colleagues would put it, the franchise application of the erstwhile leading broadcasting company. Can it be resurrected at this time?

They say the rules would allow a motion for reconsideration from one who voted with the majority, but with only 11 committee members voting in favor of ABS-CBN, it would now need a lot of courage for one honorable congressman to change his vote, amidst the possible backlash from peers and people of suspicious minds, and no less than a miracle, something not expected to happen in Congress, for about half of the 70 to follow suit and the administration-controlled plenary to finally approve the franchise application. This dramatic scenario can only be in telenovelas we may not see for quite some time.

There are talks that the TV network gambled and miserably lost on “pure” merits, and it did not help that the known political bigwigs, who could have influenced some votes for the TV giant had they wanted to, also harbor personal issues against the network. Or is another business conglomerate interested in acquiring ABS-CBN, and the only way for the present owners to be pressured to sell is the non-renewal of its franchise? Was the franchise application then doomed from the beginning and the hearings held just to parry charges of grave abuse of discretion? Your guess is as good as mine.

The committee report found the following issues, taken collectively, to have weighed “heavily against the grant of legislative franchise to ABS-CBN”: 1) Gabby Lopez’s American citizenship and doubtful Filipino citizenship and allegiance to the Philippines; 2) ABS-CBN’s possible violation of the constitutional prohibition against ownership and management of mass media by foreigners; 3) ABS-CBN’s numerous violations of the terms of its legislative franchise; 4) ABS-CBN’s questionable and unjust, if not immoral, tax avoidance schemes; 5) ABS-CBN’s apparent use of a dummy; and 6) ABS-CBN’s less than exemplary labor practices.

Did not the Department of Justice say that Gabby Lopez is a Filipino citizen from birth? Unless there is a law clearly stipulating that a dual citizen is denied some rights available to Filipino citizens, like running for public office, Lopez should be allowed to exercise rights of property ownership. Certainly, he can own a whole island in the Philippines notwithstanding the Constitutional limitations on alien ownership of land, because he is a Filipino by blood, although an American by place of birth. Why then can he not manage or own shares of stocks in ABS-CBN?

On the second issue, I wrote in a past column that if there is no truth to the allegation that the Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDR) issued for ABS-CBN shares violated the foreign ownership restrictions mandated by the Constitution, there should be no reason to withhold the renewal of its franchise. With the established fact that other broadcasting companies with PDRs were granted franchise renewal, it is logical to assume that either a law should first be passed disallowing this PDR scheme, or the Supreme Court  will come up with a judicial interpretation in a proper case that PDRs actually represent ownership of shares and therefore violative of the Constitutional restriction on foreign ownership.

But now, Congress is saying that there is a “possible” violation, which also admits the possibility that there is no violation at all. Was there an earlier binding declaration that ABS-CBN violated the terms of its franchise or any prohibition on the use of a dummy? A decision that is arrived at after compliance with the basic tenets of substantive and procedural due process?

Did not the BIR declare that the TV network had been regularly paying taxes and has no tax delinquency? If the committee believes that ABS-CBN should not have been paying much less taxes than GMA because the income of the former is expected to be bigger, should Congress not look at the tax avoidance or tax shield schemes and outlaw these mechanisms? Why fault ABS-CBN or its intelligent tax consultant for finding a LEGAL way to reduce its tax obligations?

And with respect to the less than exemplary labor practices of ABS-CBN, whose standard shall set the bar for broadcasting companies? I am sure all the other networks have their own issues with their labor practices if labor cases are accurate indicators. Is it then fair and just to use mere assumptions and possibilities to deny ABS-CBN’s franchise application? Again, your opinion is as good as mine.

May ABS-CBN avail of judicial remedies for what some quarters perceive to be an unjust blow against the freedom of the press? Some even suggest that this is a perfect illustration of a local saying “kung gusto may paraan, kung ayaw maraming dahilan”. I was told that the denial of the franchise application involves a political question. Something that the honorable Congressmen cannot be compelled to give an explanation before the courts, as they are held answerable only to the electorate. The explanation of the committee is not therefore intended to resolve, with binding effects, conflicts of rights, but are only for the constituents to understand the course of action they took in regard to the franchise application. Thus, the Vice-President urged the public to remember the names of the lawmakers who shut down ABS-CBN. Yet, we know that in politics, what is wrong to one side of the political fence is right to the other side.

The answer to a political question is always politics. No side is absolutely correct or absolutely wrong because it all depends on which side you identify with. The committee report ends with an assurance that the denial of the franchise application “is in no way related to the freedom of the press” but “a denial of a privilege granted by the State because the applicant was seen as undeserving of the grant of a legislative franchise.” Indeed, a franchise is but a privilege and never a right. ABS-CBN, the largest and leading broadcasting network in the country, may have the most number of viewers here and abroad, but unfortunately, it does not have the privilege of “friendship” with the powers that be.

I want to believe that this is not a conflict between the government and the press, but a result of a deep personal resentment due to the non-airing of the President’s political campaign advertisement in 2016. He was quoted to have said – “Your franchise will end next year,” “I will see to it that you’re out.” From where I sit, this has become so personal that for as long as ABS-CBN comes out with something in any broadcast medium, the long arm of the government will badger it with the “no franchise, no broadcast” rule, until the President would change his mind or end his term, whichever comes first.

I just hope that instead of simply telling the affected employees to find other jobs, the Department of Labor and Employment could really help the displaced victims of political disgust. And if the present owners would decide to sell the TV network rather than risk non-payment of financial debts while waiting for 2022, I wish that the group to take control of the TV network shall be fully Filipino-owned as mandated by the Constitution, and not backed by foreign capital. Abangan!

After everything has been said and done, you wonder why all of these had to happen in a time like this.  Where does compassion come into play?  Where is the humanitarian hand that government is expected to offer?  And if this is how it really is, then I hope all those congressmen can walk their talk.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with