imyeyes-banner-sqIn My EyesBy Edward B. Antonio

To ABS-CBN: Bakit nga ba?

For over a week now, I have been contemplating whether to write or not a column about the case of ABS-CBN vs. President Rodrigo Duterte himself. The issue has been going viral for days now and the giant company’s TV Patrol, an evening news reporting hosted by Noli de Castro and Ted Failon, has been tackling the issue regularly, getting sympathy from people here and abroad by airing their “concerns.”

But I’m quite disappointed why ABS-CBN is not answering the allegations of Duterte.

Let’s listen to the President:

On November 8, 2018, he said: “Hindi ko palusutin. Iyong franchise niyo matatapos. But let me ask you questions first. Kasi ako talaga mag-object na ma-renew kayo. Alam mo bakit? Magnanakaw kayo, estapador,” Duterte said.

(I will not let that pass. Your franchise will end. But let me ask you questions first, because I will really object to the renewal. You know why? You are thieves.)

This statement stemmed from ABS-CBN’s alleged failure to air a paid political advertisement by the president in 2016 which he had paid. Instead, it “accommodated” that of Sen. Antonio Trillanes that targeted then leading presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte which drew flak among netizens. The ad showed children reacting to some of the mayor’s controversial remarks and acts, including his cursing of Pope Francis and his comment about the rape-slay of an Australian missionary.

Again on December 3, 2019, he said.

“Ang iyong franchise mag-end next year. If you expect ma-renew ‘yan, I’m sorry. I will see to it that you’re out,” he said during a speech in front of new government officials at Malacañang. (Your franchise will end next year. If you expect it to be renewed, I’m sorry. I will see to it that you’re out.)

This was his 3rd time to make the threat. ABS-CBN’s current franchise, approved through Republic Act No. 7966 on March 30, 1995, is set to expire on March 30, 2020.

 Earlier on April 27, 2017, he said in an ambush interview: “The franchise has been there for 25 years. The law said it’s okay, only if you adhere to journalistic standards. What did you do to us? So I will file a complaint. Congress, no need to renew it. But to operate is something else, so I will point this out, your garbage, then we’ll see.”

What are the alleged violations of ABS-CBN?

Aside from the May 2016 incident of ABS-CBN’s failure to air his political ad in favor Trillanes (which is a personal issue), one is the selling of PDRs to foreigners.

ABS-CBN allegedly betrayed the country when it sold in 2013, about 22 percent of its effective shares — through the disguise of Philippine Depository Shares — to foreigners, 18 percent to the United States-based The Capital Group, one of the biggest investment companies in the world.

Is this true, fellas?

Section 11, Article XVI of the Philippine Constitution states: “The ownership and management of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations, wholly owned and managed by such citizens.”

In a press release by the Philippine Information Agency, a quo warranto petition by the Office of the Solicitor General against the media company was filed before the Supreme Court on Feb. 10. It said: “Like Rappler, ABS-CBN had issued [PDRs] through ABS-CBN Holdings Corporation to foreigners, in violation of the foreign ownership restriction on mass media in the Constitution.”

However, in an interview with VERA Files in 2017, lawyer Romel Bagares described PDRs as “investment tools” devised by businesses and lawyers to factor in foreign investors without violating the Constitution.

“Issuing PDRs to foreigners does not mean foreign ownership. PDRs are financial instruments devised to allow foreigners to invest in nationalized companies. They are not evidences or statements nor certificates of ownership of a corporation according to the Philippine Stock Exchange,” Bagares said.

But Ben Kritz of the Manila Times said: “It is against the law for a media entity to sell Philippine depositary receipts (PDRs) to foreign investors, and that should be directly addressed. A longer-term solution would be to change the law, because it limits legitimate media freedom and creativity — all of which would provide much more productive news and entertainment fare for Filipino consumers — but for now, since the law is what it is, a simpler and punitively instructive solution could be imposed whereby the network is obliged to withdraw the foreign-held PDRs and compensate those who purchased them. Duterte’s personal complaint against the network could then be dealt with in civil or criminal court, the proper forum for it.”

To this effect, Senator Grace Poe filed Senate Resolution 322, directing the committee on public services to look into the operations of ABS-CBN, including its compliance with the terms and conditions of its franchise under Republic Act 7966 enacted in 1995 in answer to the petition with the Supreme Court filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, who sought to nullify the network’s existing franchise due to its “highly-abusive practices.”

In his plea filed before the Supreme Court, the government’s top lawyer brought forward ABS-CBN’s alleged foreign ownership and operational issues as basis for the license cancellation. The media company has since denied the allegations.

But ABS-CBN Corporation said it did not violate the law amid the quo warranto case filed by the Office of the Solicitor General.

“We reiterate that everything we do is in accordance with the law. We did not violate the law. ABS-CBN Holdings’ Philippine Deposit Receipts or PDRs were evaluated and approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Philippine Stock Exchange prior to its public offering. These are the same instruments used by other broadcast companies to raise capital for the improvement of services. The ownership of ABS-CBN in ABS-CBN Convergence was undertaken under the same law and structures that have been utilized by other telecommunications companies. These are transfers that are approved under the Public Telecommunications Policy Act and are fully compliant with law,” ABS-CBN said.

I don’t know how the story will end, fellas.

What I’m waiting to hear from ABS-CBN is its answer why it did not air the paid political advertisement by the president in 2016 which he said he paid.

Of this, Ritz added: “Whether or not that is true — and if it is, Duterte certainly has a legitimate complaint against ABS-CBN, which should be appropriately resolved — that is purely a personal matter between a customer and service provider. For Duterte to employ the power of the government to retaliate for personal damages is grossly abusive.”

I watch ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol every evening, fellas, but like all other curious Filipinos watching the drama unfolds day by day, why, oh, why did ABS-CBN did not air that 2016 Duterte ad which became the root of all of these controversies?

Bakit nga ba?