Faced with a possible shutdown as its franchise expires on May 4, ABS-CBN apologized to President Rodrigo Duterte for failing to air his paid political advertisements in the 2016 election campaign period.
“We are sorry if we offended the President. That was not the intention of the network,” said ABS-CBN Corp. president and CEO Carlo Katigbak during a hearing of the Senate public services committee chaired by Senator Grace Poe.
Katigbak said ABS-CBN had refunded about P4 million to the President for unaired campaign ads but was delayed in returning the remaining P2.6 million to his camp, which later refused to accept the late refund.
“We acknowledge our shortcoming in our failure to release that refund in a timely manner,” Katigbak said.
But Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, a constant companion and close aide of the President, scored ABS-CBN for airing anti-Duterte attack ads paid for by former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, in place of the ads that then-candidate Duterte had already paid for.
Go played the attack ads in the Session Hall during the hearing, and denounced them as black propaganda aimed at destroying Duterte’s reputation and torpedoing his presidential bid.
“How come this was a political ad? What was your priority—black propaganda?” Go asked ABS-CBN officials present at the hearing.
“The President was hurt…he was treated badly,” Go said in a mix of English and Filipino. “The President is not vindictive but someone clearly went overboard in the airing of this black propaganda.”
Still, he said he would ask the President to reconsider his stand to deny ABS-CBN a renewed franchise.
In a Malacañang briefing, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said he was glad that ABS-CBN “finally admitted its shortcomings,” but added that “they should have done that earlier.”
Panelo said he could not tell yet if the President would accept the apology.
“It’s up to the President. I don’t know how to respond to that. It’s a personal decision,” he said.
In his testimony before the Senate, Katigbak denied that the network pushed its own political agenda in the 2016 election.
“That was not the intention of the network, we felt that we were just abiding by the laws and regulations that surround the airing of political ads,” said Katigbak.
Katigbak told the Senate panel that the network had aired all of the P117 million worth of national ads paid for by Duterte at the time.
However, he said some of Duterte’s local ads could not be accommodated since local broadcast stations are only allowed two minutes of ads per hour. He also noted that many spots were already ordered on May 3, 2016, four days ahead of the last day of the campaign period.
“There had been many previous telecast orders that came in ahead of the President’s telecast order,” he said.
Katigbak said Duterte placed an order of P65 million worth of local ads. Out of this, ABS-CBN failed to air about P7 million worth. About P4 million was initially refunded and accepted by the Duterte campaign. But he acknowledged the network was delayed in refunding the remaining P2.6 million—an amount the President later refused to accept.
In his public rants, Duterte had repeatedly accused ABS-CBN of swindling him after it failed to air his political ads in the 2016 campaign elections. He has threatened to block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s 25-year franchise, which expires May 4 (and not March 31, as earlier reported).
READ: Duterte: No time to watch ABS-CBN probe
Senator Lito Lapid, who rarely shows up at Senate hearings, asked ABS-CBN executives if they were having a difficult time renewing their franchise because of the President’s ire.
“Maybe a lot of you are wondering why I suddenly showed up here and I will not lie about it, ABS-CBN is close to my heart because out of all the senators here, I’m the only one who became an artist of ABS-CBN,” he said.
Lapid played the role of “Pinuno” in the popular ABS-CBN primetime show “Ang Probinsyano” until his character died shortly before the May 2019 election.
Senator Manny Pacquiao, co-author of a bill renewing ABS-CBN’s franchise, said it would be a big loss for the Filipino people if the network’s franchise expires.
If ABS-CBN committed any violations, Pacquiao said a case should be filed against the TV network, but not to the point of closing down the station.
Simplicio Cabantac Jr., head of the BIR Large Tax Payers Audit Division 3 and supervising commissioner Ephyro Luis Amatong of the Securities and Exchange Commission said the network has not committed any violation.
Cabantac said ABS-CBN has been regularly filing and paying their taxes for the past number of years. It paid P14,398,464,316.66 in taxes from 2016 to 2019 except for income taxes last year, which will be submitted in April.
From 2009 to 2018, ABS-CBN also paid a total of P8.859 billion in withholding taxes.
Amatong said he was not aware of any violation or complaint involving ABS-CBN.
Katigbak said his company has not broken any law or violated any provisions of its franchise, apparently in response to Solicitor General Jose Calida’s quo warranto petition against the network seeking to nullify its franchise.
“In the last years of our existing franchise, we believe we have delivered a service that is meaningful and valuable to the Filipino people,” Katigbak said.
“While our commitment to serve is genuine, we also acknowledge that we are not a perfect organization. Where we have shortcomings, we acknowledge them, and work to correct them,” he said. “Our desire to serve is greater than our shortcomings.”
National Telecommunications commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba said they needed to seek the opinion of the Department of Justice on the question of whether the network would be allowed to continue operating if its franchise expires before pending bills in Congress seeking to renew it are passed.
Calida, who filed the quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN before the Supreme Court, failed to attend Monday’s hearing.
After the hearing, Senator Franklin Drilon said many issues were clarified, especially the opinion of the Justice secretary who acknowledged a gap in the law on the franchise.
“While it is pending here in Congress, he cites the rule of equity, meaning that ABS-CBN should be allowed to continue broadcasting until the franchise is approved or rejected,” Drilon said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto questioned why ABS-CBN should be shut down when the NTC, its regulator, said it had not penalized the network for any violations.
At the same hearing, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said ABS-CBN’s franchise will expire on May 4 and not on March 30.
While the law on its franchise was enacted on March 30, 1995, it only became effective 15 days from the date of its publication in two newspapers of general circulation.
Guevarra also said Congress may authorize the NTC to allow the provisional operation of ABS-CBN when its franchise expires on May 4 and until its application for renewal is approved.
He later said the department is unlikely to issue a formal opinion to the NTC query, since this a matter for Congress to decide.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Monday accused senators of grandstanding at the hearing.
READ: Nothing special about ABS-CBN pact renewal, says Cayetano
Cayetano maintained that the Senate was violating the Constitution for starting hearings on the ABS-CBN franchise before the House when bills of local application should emanate from the House of Representatives.
READ: House defers action on ABS-CBN
“Why were they holding hearings at the Senate? For what purpose? Just to show ABS-CBN that they were present? Hello, I’m for you,” Cayetano said in a mix of Filipino and English.
“It’s like they were taking attendance of those who wanted to suck up to ABS-CBN,” he added.
He said the House would not give priority to bills seeking to renew the network’s franchise.
Also on Monday, ABS-CBN asked the Supreme Court to junk Calida’s request to impose a gag order on the network over his quo warranto petition.
The ABS-CBN argued that the public would be deprived of a “vital source of information” if a gag order will be issued against it, in violation of the constitutional provision on press freedom.
In related developments:
• The House of Representatives’ committee on the franchise on Monday said parties involved in the renewal of franchise to operate of broadcast network ABS-CBN may submit position papers on the matter. The panel’s chairman, Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez also said that the House leadership will attend to pending bills on the ABS CBN franchise renewal either in May or when Congress resumes session from a Holy Week break or in August or after the opening of the second regular session of Congress in time for the President’s State of the Nation Address.
• Artists and employees of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. on Monday took part in the Kapamilya Walk of Faith as the hearing on the network’s franchise renewal started at the Senate. The artists were joined by hundreds of employees praying for the franchise renewal of the network.
READ: Drilon rushes to extend ABS franchiseREAD: Business groups ask Congress to renew franchise of ABS-CBN
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