SAGIP partylist Rep. Rodante Marcoleta joins the growing group of members of the House of Representatives who are demanding that the numerous accusations lodged by Solicitor General Jose Calida against ABS-CBN, all contained in the petition for quo warranto Calida filed against the network before the Supreme Court last year, be duly investigated.
Since a legislative franchise is a privilege granted by the State only to the truly deserving, a thorough investigation, the solons insist, is necessary before any favorable action is taken by the House on any pending bill calling for the enactment of a new franchise for the media giant.
To recall, Calida charged that ABS-CBN violated the constitutional ban against alien ownership and management of mass media in the Philippines by using an intricate corporate scheme cleverly designed to circumvent the charter.
The Solicitor General also decried that ABS-CBN violated the terms and conditions of its now-expired franchise under Republic Act 7966 when it charged unauthorized fees for broadcast services which should be accessible for free by the general public as gleaned from the franchise.
For his part, Marcoleta accuses ABS-CBN of tax evasion committed through a manipulation of its financial records, as seen from a comparison of the tax files of ABS-CBN and those of its main competitor, the GMA-7 broadcast network. Both networks claim to be the leading radio and television networks in the entire country.
From the data presented by Marcoleta in the House, it appears that for the year 2017, ABS-CBN paid a mere P421 million in taxes, compared to the P1.09 billion paid by GMA-7.
Marcoleta revealed that in 2018, the P1.08 billion in taxes paid by GMA-7 was in the neighborhood of its tax payments the previous year, while ABS-CBN did not pay any taxes supposedly because it incurred losses amounting to P84 million that year.
The solon said the sharp contrast in tax payments for 2018 between the two networks invites suspicion because ABS-CBN repeatedly boasted it was the top broadcast network in the Philippines that year.
How “the top broadcast network” in the country for the year 2018 could possibly incur a negative income for that same year is very difficult to believe, Marcoleta pointed out.
Tax figures for 2019 cited by Marcoleta are also very telling.
In 2019, GMA-7 paid P1 billion in taxes, an amount lower than what it paid during the two previous years, but well within its annual billion peso benchmark.
The figures are different for ABS-CBN.
Marcoleta asserts ABS-CBN managed to elude paying the correct amount of taxes in 2019 by handing over the measly sum of P152 million which, Marcoleta stresses, is a mere 40 percent of the already watered-down tax liability of the network for that year.
According to Marcoleta, ABS-CBN got away paying that pittance by entering into a lopsided compromise agreement with the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
Commentators who share Marcoleta’s protestations find the P152 million tax compromise payment of ABS-CBN highly irregular, compared to the much larger sum paid by GMA-7 that same year.
The P152 million figure likewise invites suspicion.
It is common knowledge that broadcast networks generate plenty of revenues during an election year, drawn from the onslaught of political advertisements aired during the election season.
Since 2019 was an election year, it baffles the imagination how ABS-CBN was allowed to pay just P152 million in taxes during a very lucrative year. No wonder Marcoleta is very upset.
Meanwhile, Marcoleta is being urged by some sectors to include in the congressional investigation how and why the Bureau of Internal Revenue agreed to a tax compromise agreement with ABS-CBN involving such a ridiculously small and manifestly unconscionable amount of just P152 million.
Public interest advocates say tax evasion on the part of very profitable corporations is just as reprehensible as corruption in public office.
Marcoleta also says the ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation Inc., which attends to the network’s social development program, is used as a tax shelter. The foundation, Marcoleta adds, failed to pay the donor’s tax required by law.
If Marcoleta’s accusations are true, then Congress has additional reasons not to issue a new franchise to ABS-CBN.