“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.”
― Ernest Benn
In a resolution adopted by the Philippine House Legislative Franchises Committee, the ABS-CBN franchise issue ended with 70-11 votes denying the renewal on July 10, 2020. On the other hand, 75 percent of Filipinos are said to have agreed for the renewal according to the statistics conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) from July 3 until July 6. Will the people’s initiative win over the power of Congress?
This is the third and last part of this series. In part 1, we have tried to review the NTC’s cease and desist order, the legal provision of Congressional franchise, and the controversies surrounding the discussion of ABS-CBN franchise renewal. In part 2, we have visited the “hurts” and “grievances” of the president against the network including the ones from House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, and other personal grudges that might influence the decisions made by the members of the Franchises Committee.
Today, we will reestablish our understanding of the legal, personal, and political connections impacting the ABS-CBN franchise issue.
On Legal Issues
Within 12 hearings, ABS-CBN Corporation has faced multiple allegations, such as not paying their taxes, illegally collecting pay-per-view for the Kapamilya Box Office (KBO), not complying with the labor laws, not observing 100% Filipino ownership under Philippine Depository Receipts, and a lot more. As ready as they are, the network has answered the accusations brilliantly, satisfying the 11 Congresspeople who agreed for the franchise renewal.
Related blog article: ABS-CBN Franchise Renewal: On Legal Issues (Part 1)
Congressman Benny Abante, Representative of the 6th District of Manila and one of the 11 minorities, has trusted the testimonies of the ABS-CBN management. He emphasized his point of approval by saying, “Sabi ng BIR, bayad ang kanilang buwis. Sabi ng SEC, aprubado ang kanilang PDRs. Sabi ng DOLE, sinunod ng ABS-CBN lahat ng compliance orders na ibinigay sa kanila” (English Translation: The BIR says they paid their taxes. The SEC said they approved their PDRs. The DOLE said ABS-CBN complied with all compliance orders given to them).
Rep. Abante is also convinced of the Filipino citizenship of ABS-CBN Chairperson Emeritus Eugenio Gabriel “Gabby” López III. Concerning the blocktime agreement with AMCARA Broadcasting Network, the congressman responded:
“Sa issue ng pag-blocktime nila sa AMCARA, sinabi na ng KBP na maari nila itong gawin. Hindi rin ito isang practice na esklusibong ginagawa ng ABS-CBN. Ginagawa din ito ng iba pang broadcasting network.”
(English Translation: On the issue of their blocktime on AMCARA, KBP has already said that they can do it. This is also not a practice that ABS-CBN does exclusively. Other broadcasting networks do the same.)
On Personal Issues
“I accept the apology, of course,” that are the words of Pres. Duterte after ABS-CBN president and chief executive officer Carlo Katigbak apologized for offending him by not airing political ads worth 6.6 million.
After the said acceptance of the apology, the Palace continually claims of distancing themselves from influencing Congress of any decision they will come up with. On the day of the denial of the franchise renewal, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque reiterated, “The Palace has maintained a neutral stance on the issue as it respects the separation of powers between the two co-equal branches government.”
Notwithstanding, after days of the death of the ABS-CBN franchise, an uploaded video of the president’s speech in Jolo, Sulu becomes controversial after saying that he “dismantled the oligarchy” without declaring martial law. Critics believe that this is an admission of the Commander-in-Chief of his influence over the ABS-CBN franchise issue. As usual, the presidential spokesperson denies the connection of the “oligarchs” to the Lopezes of ABS-CBN. Instead, they admitted that they are talking about Manuel “Manny” Pangilinan, Lucio Tan, and the Ayalas.
On that same day, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano also posted about oligarchs on his Facebook Page. He stated, “President 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. 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.”
In his attempt to illustrate his point, Mr. Cayetano continued saying, “As to the Oligarchs, like the owners of ABS-CBN, whose historical institutional DNA is programmed to protect and grow their fortunes by controlling and abusing the system, they also deprive the country of billions in much-needed funds by skirting and bending the law. Many times in connivance with the political elite.” Is the uploading of the speech of the president attacking the “oligarchs” and the House Speaker doing the same a coincidence?
In 24 Oras, the news broadcasting of the GMA Network, they have reported about the alleged edited portion of the president’s speech. In the audio clip that they have played, you can hear the president saying:
“Yun namang ABS-CBN, binaboy ako. Pero sinabi ko, ‘pag ako ang nanalo, bubuwagin ko ang oligarchy ng Pilipinas. Ginawa ko without declaring martial law, sinira ko ‘yung mga tao na humahawak sa ekonomiya at umiipit at hindi nagbabayad.”
(English Translation: With ABS-CBN, they degraded me. But I said, if I win, I will dismantle the oligarchy of the Philippines. I did it without declaring martial law, I destroyed the people who hold the economy and are tight and do not pay [taxes].)
Related blog article: ABS-CBN Franchise Renewal: On Personal Issues (Part 2)
On Political Issues
In solidarity with the 11,000 employees of ABS-CBN, the Philippine Association of Communication Educators (PACE) believes that the 70 members of the Franchises Committee “perpetuate power imbalance for personal political gains by agreeing to silence permanently a media institution.”
If it is true that the network has no legal violations and that the hearing is personally motivated, political opportunists might have used the ABS-CBN franchise issue for other reasons.
Senator Joel Villanueva commented, “To some people who want to equate the non-renewal of [ABS-CBN] to the dismantling of oligarchy is inaccurate. It has more negative effects on the economy and the business climate.” He continued saying, “To deny the franchise of a company which has no clear violations of our laws sends a signal that politicians can stop a business operation on a whim.”
Sen. Villanueva further suggested to Congress that if institutional and legal constraints will not be addressed, “we will just replace one oligarch with another.”
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the authors of the bills giving ABS-CBN a new franchise, considered the House panel hearing as a show because, according to him, the “antis” are really “rooting for the denial of ABS-CBN franchise renewal.” Rep. Lagman said, “The protracted hearings conducted by the Committees on Legislative Franchises and Good Government followed a foregone conclusion, and despite ABS-CBN surviving the grueling legislative inquisition, it was slain at the end of the show with premeditation and abuse of superiority in numbers as aggravating circumstances.” The congressman concludes that in the 70 anti votes, the “dictates of partisanship” prevailed over the “demands of merit.”
If the denial of the ABS-CBN franchise in Congress is a partisan victory, the outside world has something to say. About 3 out of 4 (or 75%) of adult Filipinos strongly support the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN. That is out of 1,555 respondents of the probability-based survey conducted by SWS through the National Mobile Phone Survey method.
How can the result of the survey help with the ABS-CBN franchise issue? The last and only resource the media network has is “people’s initiative.” Under the Philippine Initiative and Referendum Act of 1987 or Republic Act 6735, “initiative is the power of the people to propose amendments to the Constitution or to propose and enact legislations through an election called for the purpose.” This means whenever Congress doesn’t make a favorable resolution, about 10% of the total number of registered voters can enact laws.
— JP Abecilla (@jpabecilla) July 18, 2020
Whether the “people’s initiative” will work or not, one thing is for sure, the 75% of Filipinos who support the ABS-CBN franchise renewal will not forget this event in modern history. If winning against the 70 legislators is impossible today, ABS-CBN supporters might use this situation as a basis for the election in 2022.