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Duterte to block ABS-CBN ops even if Congress grants new franchise

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night said that he would not allow the National Telecommunications Commission to give ABS-CBN a license to operate even if the network is given a new franchise by Congress. 

Duterte indicated the Lopez family should first settle its unpaid obligations.

"Congress is planning to restore the franchise. Wala akong problem kung i-restore ninyo but I will not allow them to operate. I will not allow the NTC to grant them the permit to operate," Duterte said.

"Unless and until mabayaran ng mga Lopez ang taxes nila, I will ignore your franchise and I will not give them the license to operate," he added.

Lopez Holdings Corp. has said it had no outstanding loans with the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP).

"Lopez Holdings Corp. does not have any unpaid obligations to the Development Bank of the Philippines or other government financial institutions," it said in a statement in 2017.

Duterte at that time hit the company formerly known as Benpres over its supposed outstanding debt with the state-owned lender.

"I will not name the person, but 'yung mga company nila noon -- Benpres and about six other companies -- may utang sila sa DBP. At ang utang nila, umabot ng... to finance this... pera ng tao, gagamitin nila to finance their business pero kanila 'yung kita," Duterte said then.

The holdings firm owns major shareholdings in television network ABS-CBN and in the power, property, and telecommunications sectors.

Lehman brothers

DBP president Emmanuel Herbosa told a congressional inquiry in January that the soured loans of the Lopez Group of Companies have not been written off.

The non-performing debts were instead passed on to global financial services firm Lehman Brothers Asia Limited.

Herbosa said the DBP in 2006 sold the non-performing debts cumulatively worth P9.55 billion to Lehman Brothers Asia for P3.83 billion on October 16, 2006.

The billions of loans passed on to the Lehman Brothers include unpaid loans from the Lopez Group for its then-subsidiaries Bayan Telecommunications Inc., Central CATV (SkyCable Corp.), and Maynilad Water Services Inc.

With the asset sale, the Lopez Group would then pay the loans to the Lehman Brothers, as the DBP tapped the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) Act of 2002 which provided lenders to lessen losses from non-performing loans. 

Off the air

ABS-CBN went off the air last May following the expiration of its 25-year legislative franchise. In July, a House of Representatives panel voted to deny the network's franchise application.

The closure came amid repeated threats by Duterte since 2016 to block the network's franchise renewal.

Last month, Senate President Vicente Sotto III filed Senate Bill No. 1967 seeking to renew the franchise granted to ABS-CBN to construct, install, operate, and maintain television and radio broadcasting stations in the Philippines for another 25 years. -NB, GMA News