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House leader opposes granting ABS-CBN another 25-year franchise

As far as Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta is concerned, broadcast giant ABS-CBN should no longer be given another legislative franchise after it supposedly violated provisions in the Constitution and other related laws and even its own previous franchise.

Marcoleta on Tuesday delivered the opening statement of those who oppose the granting of another 25-year franchise to ABS-CBN during the joint meeting of the House Committees on Legislative Franchises and on Good Government and Public Accountability.

The lawmaker began his speech by playing the now-viral video of ABS-CBN actress Kim Chiu, "Bawal Lumabas," and said: "Hindi nag-comply sa batas ang ABS-CBN kaya hindi sila pwedeng lumabas at magpalabas."

"Those opposing the franchise application of ABS-CBN will show with clear and convincing evidence that ABS-CBN did not comply with the terms and conditions of its franchise as well as our laws and the Constitution," Marcoleta said.

"ABS-CBN deliberately and with impunity violated the conditions of its legislative franchise," he added.

For one, Marcoleta alleged that ABS-CBN has been using the same airwaves for more than 50 years already even as the Constitution states that Congress can grant a franchise of up to 50 years only.

He said that ABS-CBN started its operations 63 years ago in 1957 when Eugenio Lopez Sr., owner of Chronicle Broadcasting Network (CBN), acquired Alto Broadcasting System (ABS).

Even if ABS-CBN's operations were shut down during the Marcos regime for 13 years, according to Marcoleta, the network still has been operating for 50 years.

"Ibig sabihin, tapos na at paso pa rin ang prangkisa ng ABS-CBN with or without martial law," he said.

Marcoleta also claimed that former ABS-CBN president Gabby Lopez III was an American citizen when he joined the company as director in 1986, which he said is a violation of the constitutional provision that mass media companies should be 100% Filipino-owned.

According to a report on 24 Oras, ABS-CBN had earlier explained that under the 1935 Constitution, Gabby Lopez III is a Filipino because he was born to Filipino parents in the US in 1952.

ABS-CBN also allegedly let foreign entities own its common shares through the issuance of Philippine Depository Slips (PDRs), he added.

Marcoleta likewise alleged that ABS-CBN has not regularized its contractual workers and talents even as they are performing the functions of regular workers.

He also claimed that the network forced its employees to sign employment contracts containing waiver of right to contractualization, and "those who refused were unceremoniously terminated from work."

It is for this reason that Marcoleta told ABS-CBN not to use the plight of its workers in convincing Congress to grant them a franchise.

"Huwag niyong isasangkalan ngayon ang inyong mga manggagawa at ang kanilang pamilya. Hindi ganun. Sasagutin niyo ang mga alegasyong ito hindi sa pamamagitan ng emotional appeal," he said.

At the same time, Marcoleta also alleged that the ABS-CBN was biased and partisan in favor of some candidates during the 2010 and 2016 elections, claiming that the network was "pro-Noynoy Aquino" during the 2010 polls, and "pro-Grace Poe" and "pro-Leni Robredo" in 2016.

"It is also a matter of record that ABS-CBN failed to air some of President Duterte's political advertisements during the 2016 campaign period despite receiving the payment of these political ads," he said.

Moreover, Marcoleta also accused ABS-CBN of engaging in tax avoidance schemes by using its wholly owned subsidiary, Big Dipper Digital Content and Design Inc., as tax shield.

"Because of this unconscionable tax avoidance scheme, ABS-CBN alleged effective tax rate in 2018 was a -5%. This means that ABS-CBN managed to avoid paying taxes in 2018," he said.

Marcoleta also claimed that ABS-CBN violated the terms and conditions of its franchise by offering TV Plus for a one-time fee while using free-to-air signals authorized by its franchise at no cost.

Contrary to the terms of its franchise, ABS-CBN also operated pay-per-view channel KBO even without a valid permit from the National Telecommunications Commission and despite the agency's order to stop its operations, he added.

"We believe that it is but right for the House to deny this time the franchise of ABS-CBN for flagrantly violating the Constitution and related laws, even its own franchise, making it unworthy for the grant of this special privilege by the state," Marcoleta said.

While ABS-CBN was not given the opportunity during the hearing to respond to Marcoleta's claims, its president and CEO Carlo Katigbak already said during his prior opening remark that no court has determined that the company violated any law.

"Sabi po ng BIR, bayad ang aming buwis. Nanggaling sa SEC na aprubado sa kanila ang pag-issue ng mga PDR. Ang Department of Justice ang nagsabi na hindi labag sa prangkisa ang KBO. Ang DOLE naman ay nagsabi na sumunod kami sa lahat ng compliance orders nila," he said.

"Wala po kaming nilabag na batas. Pero inaamin namin na hindi kami isang perpektong organisasyon. May mga kakulangan din po kami. At handa naming ayusin ang mga ito," he added.

Katigbak said ABS-CBN will submit their documents to the joint panels on Thursday in preparation for the next hearing, which is set on Monday, June 1.

The joint House panels began hearing the bills granting another 25-year franchise to ABS-CBN after the House leadership decided to drop the measure that would supposedly give the network a provisional franchise until October 31, 2020.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, himself an author of the provisional franchise bill, has said the issue on the ABS-CBN franchise has already become "so divisive" and is taking up the time even as there are more pressing matters to discuss such as that of COVID-19 response measures.

He, however, vowed to have a fair and comprehensive hearings on the issue on the committee level. — BM, GMA News