MANILA – The time of reckoning has come for media giant ABS-CBN over alleged breaches in its broadcast operations, Solicitor General Jose Calida said on Monday.
During the joint House Committee on Legislative Franchises and on Good Government and Public Accountability inquiry on the network’s franchise issue, Calida claimed that the ABS-CBN committed violations arising from its franchise, the laws and the Constitution.
“The time has come to expose ABS-CBN, whose owners and corporate officers continue to deceive the Filipino people into believing that they are ‘in the service of the Filipino people’,” Calida said.
“In truth, however, ABS-CBN is motivated not by service, but by greed and desire for power and influence. Their brazen act must come to an end. The hour of reckoning may have been delayed but it has now come,” he added.
He said ABS-CBN violated the nature and scope of its legislative franchise, when it allowed another entity, ABS-CBN Convergence, to make use of and abuse the former’s legislative franchise.
He cited Republic Act 7925, which states that no single franchise shall authorize an entity to engage in both telecommunications and broadcasting, either through the airwaves or by cable.
Calida also argued that ABS-CBN Corporation was not authorized to use free-to-air signals in its operations of the pay-per-view KBO Channel, noting that it continued operating despite being ordered by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to refrain from doing so and await the issuance of appropriate guidelines.
“ABS-CBN Corporation charges PHP30 or PHP99 from the viewing public to be able to watch the movies and other contents in the KBO Channel. ABS-CBN Corporation has aired movies, boxing shows, concerts, and other events in its KBO Channel for a fee and without obtaining prior approval from the NTC,” he said.
“These acts are evidently not covered by the legislative franchise granted by the State in favor of ABS-CBN Corporation,” he added.
He said the firm circumvented the foreign equity restriction in mass media entities provided under the Philippine Constitution through the use of Philippine Depository Receipts (PDRs).
“The PDRs unlocked the share value of ABS-CBN Corporation, allowing foreigners to participate in a media enterprise whose ownership is constitutionally limited to Filipinos,” he said.
Calida stressed that a legislative franchise is not a right, but a privilege subject to regulation under conditions that the government may see fit.
“Thus, in cases of misuse, non-use or abuse of a franchise, the state ought to reassert its authority and rise a grantor regardless of the grantee’s identity and influence,” he said.
“You may have committed too many violations which went unnoticed and unpunished but we are determined to root out such illegal practices,” he added.
During the same hearing, ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak dispelled the claim regarding PDRs, explaining that their issuance does not mean yielding ownership to foreign entities.
“Ang PDR po ay hindi katumbas ng pag-aari sa ABS-CBN. Ito po ay aprubado ng SEC (Security and Exchange Commission), at ito po ay ginagawa rin ng ibang media company na nabigyan ng prangkisa (The PDR does not automatically mean ownership of ABS-CBN. This is approved by the SEC and other media companies with franchises also issue this),” Katigbak said. Filane Mikee Cervantes /PNA – northboundasia.com