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Vilma files new ABS-CBN franchise bill; panel probes DBP link

Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto has filed a new bill seeking to renew the shuttered ABS-CBN network’s 25-year franchise.

Santos-Recto’s House Bill 8298 was immediately referred to the House committee on legislative franchises after it was passed on first reading (committee referral) in plenary session Monday. The bill was filed last Jan. 5.

Meanwhile, a panel in the House of Representatives began its initial hearing on the alleged loan condonation of the Development Bank of the Philippines in favor of companies controlled by or affiliated with the Lopez family, which owns ABS-CBN.

The House of Representatives’ Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, led by Michael Edgar Aglipay, held the hearing in response to House Resolution 1040 filed by Reps. Claudine Diana Bautista of Dumper-PTDA, Paolo Duterte of Davao City, Elpidio Barzaga Jr of Dasmariñas City, Michael Defensor of Anakalusugan, Eric Yap of ACT-CIS and Rodante Marcoleta of Sagip.

In filing the bill, Santos-Recto said that ABS-CBN is “the Philippines’ largest entertainment and media conglomerate in terms of revenue, operating income, net income, assets, equity, market capitalization, and the number of employees.”

“Despite the growing popularity of social media, television still remains as a preferred mass medium in our provinces and far-flung areas,” said the lawmaker, who as an actress had films shown on ABS-CBN.

“ABS-CBN has remained steadfast in its commitment to reach out to as many Filipinos as possible by delivering their quality core programs closer to our countrymen by taking advantage of emerging broadcast technologies,” she added.

Santos-Recto’s bill was different from a bill she earlier filed along with several bills seeking renewal of franchise to operate the broadcast giant-- a move that was turned down by the House legislative franchises committee last July.

But Rep. Mike Defensor, who serves as the vice-chairman of the House committee on legislative franchises, earlier urged ABS-CBN franchise renewal proponents to withdraw their initially denied bills to make way for the refiling of new ones to start ABS-CBN’s franchise bid once again.

The female legislator filed HB 8298 as a counterpart measure at the lower chamber of Senate President Vicente Sotto III’s Senate Bill 1967, which seeks to revive the broadcasting giant’s franchise.

Under the 1987 Constitution, private bills—such as the granting and renewal of franchises—“shall originate exclusively” from the House. This means that the House has to approve ABS-CBN’s franchise bid first before the Senate can make any significant progress on the matter.

As for HR 1040, the legislators said that, based on the submissions of ABS-CBN in the joint committee hearing of the committees on legislative franchises, and good government and public accountability, the chamber had come to learn that Benpres Holdings Corporation (now called Lopez Holdings Corporation), which was given rights over a considerable number of ABS-CBN Corporation shares, allegedly benefitted from a large condonation or write-offs from the DBP, along with other companies controlled by or affiliated with the Lopez family.

“The DBP loans condoned or written off by DBP may exceed the amount of P1.6 billion, which otherwise should have accrued to the Philippine government,” the lawmakers said in the resolution.

“The details of this condonation or write-off are as yet unknown to the public at large, despite the fact that this particular transaction could have cost the Filipino people P1.6 billion that could have been used for various programs that would provide much needed help to the general public and the country in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

During the hearing, Aglipay said the panel would not only look into the loan condonation issue but also investigate and review the policies and guidelines of the DBP.

Defensor noted that the resolution was filed when the allegation was raised during the deliberations on the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN Corporation last year.

At the onset, Bautista, principal author of HR 1040, expressed concern over the matter as she said the loans allegedly condoned by the DBP was about P1.6 billion. “The impact of the loss of P1.6 billion is further compounded by the urgent need of funding for government programs to address the on-going global pandemic.”

When asked by lawmakers regarding the loan agreements, DBP Legal Officer Soraya Adiong said “copies of the documents were already disposed pursuant to the DBP’s retention policies.”

But DBP President Emmanuel Herbosa said they would provide the committee with all documents that were still available.

Lopez Holdings President, Chief Operating Officer as well as Chief Finance Officer Salvador Tirona said ABS-CBN did not submit documents on the DBP loans during the franchise hearing last year.

He added that “on the basis of information, knowledge, belief and available documents, no such condonations and write offs were effected by DBP.”

Topics: Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto , ABS-CBN , franchise bill , House of Representatives , Development Bank of the Philippines , DBP
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