ABS-CBN 'proved integrity' in 'eye of needle' franchise bid: solon

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 09 2020 05:53 PM

Press freedom and workers’ rights advocates join ABS-CBN employees during a solidarity event calling for the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise outside the House or Representatives on July 6, 2020. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — ABS-CBN Corp "proved its integrity" when the House of Representatives made it pass through the "eye of a needle" in its application for a fresh license, a lawmaker said Thursday, as he urged colleagues to protect jobs and public interest by voting for the franchise. 

Other media outfits got franchises in several "hours or days," unlike ABS-CBN that passed through 12 hearings in nearly a month-and-a-half which is perhaps the longest in Congress' history, said Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate. 

"Ang ABS-CBN, pinadaan natin sa butas ng karayom... Ito ay naging pagkakataon para mapatunayan natin na kahit sa pinakamasusing pagsasala, lumulutang ang katapatan at ang integridad ng ABS-CBN," he said during the summation of arguments backing the network. 

"Hindi lang ito sabi-sabi. Sino ang mga nagpatotoo nito? Mismong mga ahensya ng gobyerno," he added. 

(We made ABS-CBN pass through the eye of a needle. However, this became the chance to prove to us that even under the tightest scrutiny, the loyalty and integrity of ABS-CBN buoy up. This is not just hearsay. Who proved this? Government agencies.) 

ISSUES HURDLED VS ABS-CBN 

Critics had accused ABS-CBN of illegal foreign ownership. But Justice Undersecretary Emelline Aglipay-Villar testified in the hearings that ABS-CBN Corp chairman emeritus Eugenio "Gabby" Lopez III is a Filipino because his parents are Philippine citizens, said Zarate. 

Lopez earlier told congressmen that he was also a dual American citizen because he was born in the US. 

"There’s no distinction made between pure Filipino and dual citizens" when it comes to participation in mass media, said Zarate, quoting Justice Assistant Secretary Nicholas Ty. 

The Securities and Exchange Commission also testified that "a dual citizen is 100 percent Filipino," Zarate said. 

SEC Commissioner Ephyro Luis Amatong, Zarate noted, also told lawmakers that ABS-CBN's Philippine Depositary Receipts "do not reflect transfer of ownership to foreigners."

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Contrary to allegations of tax irregularities, the Bureau of Internal Revenue testified that the network regularly settled taxes and is one of the country's top taxpayers, said the lawmaker. 

Philippine Economic Zone Authority officials also said the broadcaster has no tax shield. 

Ownership of the company, meanwhile, stayed with the Lopezes during martial law and its takeover then by the government was "limited only to possession," Zarate said, quoting DOJ's Ty. 

On allegations of election coverage bias, the Commission on Elections said the network did not violate any poll law, he said.

Quoting the labor department, Zarate also said it was typical for any big company to face labor cases and that ABS-CBN complied with standards. 

"Matapos ang napakaraming bintang, walang napatunayan na pagkakasala ang ABS-CBN. Sa halip, nakita natin ang kaniyang pakinabang sa bayan bilang tagapaglingkod," he said. 

(After so many accusations against ABS-CBN, none was proven. Instead, we saw its use in public service.) 

'SIDE WITH WHAT IS RIGHT'

ABS-CBN reaches millions of migrant workers, and far-flung areas where other networks have no signal, said Zarate. The network also delivered information and relief during calamities, armed conflict and the coronavirus pandemic, he said. 

A July 5 survey by Summit Media found 92 percent of respondents backed a fresh franchise for ABS-CBN, whose free television and radio services were closed by regulators on May 5, Zarate said. 

ABS-CBN also has experience on educational shows developed with the government, which are especially useful as the country prepares to shift to remote learning to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the lawmaker said. 

Zarate also questioned why lawmakers would endanger the jobs of 11,000 ABS-CBN workers in the middle of a pandemic that has seen around 7.3 million Filipinos unemployed. 

"Bakit naman natin paparusahan ang isang kumpanya na walang pagkakasala? Bakit natin pipigilang maglingkod ang isang kumpanya at ang kaniyang mga nasasakupan na may malaking pakinabang sa isang nagsisikap na bayan na gaya sa atin?" he said. 

(Why will we punish a company that did not err? Why will we stop a company and its workers from serving when they have a big contribution to a persevering nation like ours?) 

He urged colleagues to vote on ABS-CBN's franchise based on their conscience and public interest. 

"Sumama po tayo sa panig ng matuwid at tama: bigyan po natin ng pagkakataon pang muling makapaglingkod ang ABS-CBN sa ating mamamayan at sa ating bayan... I-renew po natin ang kanilang prangkisa," he said. 

(Let's side with what is just and right: let's give ABS-CBN another chance to serve our citizens and our country... Let's renew their franchise)

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