On July 10, after a total of 12 public hearings and testimony establishing the broadcast network had not violated any law, the Legislative Committee on Franchises in the House of Representatives just the same voted to deny the renewal of ABS-CBN’s broadcast franchise.
Of the 85 members of the committee dominated by President Rodrigo Duterte’s political allies, 70 voted to deny, 11 voted for the renewal, two voted to inhibit, and one abstained from voting. Fourteen lawmakers who sponsored bills that called for the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise argued that the hearings had not proven that ABS-CBN broke any regulations that warranted its closure.
The decision formally affirmed the National Telecommunications Commission’s May 5 order to the country’s largest broadcast company to cease and desist from television and radio broadcasting operations, its 25-year franchise having expired the day before. The order covered 42 television stations operated by ABS-CBN across the country, including the main ABS-CBN Network, ABS-CBN Sports and Action, 10 digital broadcast channels, 18 FM stations, and five AM stations, including its radio stations DZMM S+A and MOR.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s aides tried to distance the President from the decision. Spokesperson Harry Roque said, “The decision of the House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Franchises denying the franchise application of ABS-CBN Corporation is a sole prerogative of Congress that we in the Executive recognize. The Palace has maintained a neutral stance on the issue as it respects the separation of powers between the two coequal branches of government. Much as we want to work with the aforesaid media network, we have to abide by the resolution of the House committee.” The President’s legal adviser, Salvador Panelo, said the President “doesn’t intrude on the affairs of an equal branch.”
President Duterte himself insists Congress, not he, shut down ABS-CBN. He told government troops in Jolo, Sulu just two days after his allies had killed ABS-CBN’s application for franchise renewal, “Itong may isa pang ano human right na regional, puti. Sabi niya ako raw ang nagpasara sa ABS-CBN. P***** i*** malay ko? Nagpasara niyan Congress. Asshole talaga ang gago. Ganun ‘yung puti. Sobra.” (There is this human right advocate in the region, a white man, who claimed I closed down ABS-CBN. Son of a b****. How do I know? It was Congress that had it shut down. The stupid guy is a real asshole. That’s how white men are. Too much.)
There is a line in the Shakespearean play Hamlet which goes “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The phrase is used in everyday speech to indicate doubt concerning someone’s sincerity. As in the play, it is commonly used to imply that someone who denies something very strongly is hiding the truth. “To protest too much” is to express an opinion or fact so strongly or so often that people start to doubt that you are telling the truth.
The President doth protest too much, methinks. Mr. Duterte’s vehement assertion that not he but Congress put ABS-CBN off the air makes people think that the opposite of what he is affirming is true. After all, he is known to have a disdain for the broadcast network.
He had accused it of favoring certain candidates by refusing to air some of his campaign materials during the 2016 presidential campaign. ABS-CBN denied the allegations, saying that other candidates had already bought all the time slots available by the time his campaign staff came to place his materials.
Also, during that same campaign period, ABS-CBN aired an advertisement of vice-presidential candidate Antonio Trillanes IV showing clips of presidential candidate Duterte cursing, making a risqué rape remark, and saying he is ready to kill. ABS-CBN explained that it was “duty-bound” to air the advertisement as it was a legitimate campaign ad.
On March 30, 2017, he called ABS-CBN “bastos” (rude) for allegedly reporting unfair news about him.. He said that “karma will come” to them one day. He said ABS-CBN “published trash.”
On April 27 that same year, he threatened to block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s broadcast franchise which was due to expire in 2020. When asked by reporters if he would take legal action against the network for supposed estafa, he said, “Yes. If you’re like that, you are engaged in swindling. For all you know, how many companies paid you and you did not air it? If ABS-CBN would just swindle people, I would have to stop it.”
On May 19, speaking at the presentation of designs of houses for military and police personnel, he said he would file charges of “multiple syndicated estafa” against ABS-CBN. “Kawalang hiya ninyo, kapal ng mukha ninyo, p*******…leche kayo (You have no shame, you with thick faces, you sons of *******. Sh** you.), Gabby Lopez, I paid ABS-CBN P2.8 million. You accepted my money, you never bothered to show my propaganda (political advertisements). After the elections, you didn’t return the money.”
On Nov. 7, 2018 President Duterte threatened to block the ABS-CBN franchise anew. “I said they have committed so many frauds. They have to answer for it. If they cannot explain to me why they should not be given an extension [or] how not to run an outfit, I’m going to oppose it,” he told reporters in the newly reopened resort island of Boracay, where he distributed Certificates of Land Ownership Award to agrarian reform beneficiaries.
On Dec. 3, 2019, in a speech before new Malacañang officials, he said he was still angry with ABS-CBN. “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.” On Dec. 30, he told ABS-CBN it would be better to “just sell” the network, remarking that Congress renewing the franchise is unlikely.
In the same speech he delivered before government troops in Jolo, President Duterte said he can die happy after dismantling the country’s oligarchy without having to declare martial law. He alleged that the oligarchs have controlled the economy, failed to pay proper taxes, and influenced the elections.
“‘Yun namang ABS-CBN, binaboy ako. Pero sinabi ko kapag ako nanalo, bubuwagin ko ang oligarchy ng Pilipinas. Ginawa ko. (That ABS-CBN, it has debased me. But I said when I win, I will dismantle the oligarchy in the Philippines. I did it),” Duterte said.
So, President Duterte himself has claimed credit for taking down the country’s oligarchy. It is clear from his own words that the oligarchy he referred to is ABS-CBN.
As for Presidential Spokesman Roque’s claim that the decision of the House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Franchises denying the franchise application of ABS-CBN Corp. is a sole prerogative of Congress, it is true the members of the committee tried to determine if ABS-CBN Corp. was worthy of a new franchise. Its capability to broadcast was not taken up as that was taken for granted, ABS-CBN having been in operation for 25 years and reaching areas much wider and farther than those reached by other networks.
The members of the committee instead determined if ABS-CBN had violated any condition of its franchise license. It was alleged that it had violated the provision on 100% Filipino ownership of a media company as one of its principal owners, Gaby Lopez, is an American citizen and that foreigners hold ABS-CBN Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs). But Justice Assistant Secretary Nicholas Ty said that Mr. Lopez is also a Filipino citizen as he has dual citizenship. The Securities and Exchange Commission testified that “PDRs do not reflect transfer of ownership to foreigners.”
The congressmen cited other supposed violations, but those were outside the purview of the Franchise Committee. For that reason, the Committee on Good Government joined the hearings on ABS-CBN’s application for renewal of its franchise. While some congressmen found the involvement of that committee inappropriate, just the same, the alleged violations were raised in the hearings of the joint committees. They were: tax delinquency, tax evasion, election coverage bias, non-compliance with Department of Labor standards, and illegal use of government property.
The Bureau of Internal Revenue testified that the network regularly settled its taxes and is one of the country’s top taxpayers while the Philippine Economic Zone Authority said the broadcaster has no tax shield. The Commission on Elections and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas said the network did not violate any election law, while the Department of Labor and Employment said ABS-CBN complied with standards.
Former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who was the Secretary of Defense when martial law was imposed in1972, denied the government seized ownership of ABS-CBN from the Lopez family when it took over its broadcast facilities. Ownership remained with the Lopezes.
After the members of the two committees made ABS-CBN pass through the eye of the needle, the integrity ABS-CBN held up. Still, 70 congressmen, including, ironically, the chairman of the Committee on Good Government, decided to deny ABS-CBN a fresh franchise. It is as if they and the three others who chose to wash their hands of the “kill” sentence said, “Mr. President, thy will be done.”
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a politicized citizen since his college days in the late 1950s.