House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Monday said the government is not to blame for ABS-CBN’s shutdown, passing the buck to its owners — whom he branded as oligarchs — for allegedly playing “fast and loose” with the country’s laws.
A committee at the House of Representatives voted to deny the broadcast network’s franchise application by a vote of 70-11 on Friday last week.
Cayetano said he stands by the decision of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, believing that the network deprived the country of funds by not paying taxes properly.
“As to the oligarchs, like the owners of ABS-CBN, whose historical institutional DNA is programmed to protect and grow their fortunes by controlling and abusing the system, they also deprived the country of billions in much needed funds by skirting and bending the law many times in connivance with the political elite.”
“It wasn’t the government (which) shut ABS-CBN down. Rather it was (its) owners’ playing fast and loose with our laws in the past decades, that made the shutdown inevitable,” he added.
“They field de campanilla attorneys (legal eagles) who expertly twist the law to suit their commercial interests. Yes, their methods for avoiding taxes in the billions of pesos may appear ‘legal,’ but how can you argue that putting that much money in the pockets of one family, instead of having it benefit the millions of Filipinos who desperately need it, is in any way right or moral?”
“This is especially glaring when the same privilege of using public airwaves yields a much more beneficial result for the people when used by another network. The fact that GMA paid P3.13 billion in taxes from 2017 to 2019, as compared to ABS-CBN’s P563 million for the same period, makes it crystal clear that something has gone terribly wrong with the system. This despite ABS-CBN being a bigger company that usually has bigger annual income than GMA,” he added.
Before the network’s franchise was tackled, Cayetano had sought support from ABS-CBN for the television coverage of last year’s 30th Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) which the network’s owners granted.
Cayetano was the chairman of the private Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc). It administered the controversial hosting of the events funded with government money allocated by the Congress he also heads.
Cayetano’s father, the late Senator Rene Cayetano, started his Companero y Companera TV program on ABS-CBN from 1997 to 1998, the year he was elected to the Senate.
Cayetano reiterated that the franchise denial was not an issue of press freedom. He stated that Congress is not stifling the right of any journalist or employee of ABS-CBN or any Filipino from criticizing the government.
“We simply put an end to the privilege of one family in using a public resource to protect and promote their private interests,” he said.
“While my belief in the right of the people — including those who work in the media — to freely express their opinions in whatever platform and manner remains strong, so is my conviction that private interests should be kept at the same arms-length distance as government from controlling the media,” he added.
Cayetano expressed hopes that people will understand the decision of the chamber.
“Ultimately, people will come to understand that this was never an issue about press freedom. That despite the best efforts by the owners to use it as a shield for their abusive corporate practices, Filipinos will see that this is — first and foremost — simply part of this season’s uprooting of the weeds and a reclaiming our patrimony from the oligarchs.”
Over at the Palace, presidential spokesman Harry Roque reiterated that the granting of broadcasting franchise is the sole and exclusive prerogative of the Congress.
“We lost a media partner in information dissemination, considering that the network has one of the widest, if not the widest, in the archipelago,” Roque said while stating that Republic Act 7925 or the Public Telecommunications Act grants a privilege of broadcast rights conferred upon entities only by the Congress.
Meanwhile, over 800 media workers have expressed support to the embattled ABS-CBN employees who are at risk of losing their jobs amid a global pandemic.
In a statement issued Monday, journalists and editors from the various media organizations condemned what they called a “cruel and unjust” denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise.
“One media outfit shut down because of the whims and trivialities of those in power is one too many, especially at a time when the public needs credible and independently verified information to make informed choices,” they said.
They also slammed the 70 lawmakers who voted against the franchise renewal of the network which led to the impending job loss of 11,000 workers currently employed by the broadcast giant.
The media workers also said that the lawmakers “clearly want to treat the press as a propaganda machine that will serve their political interests, embellish their image, and parrot their spin.”
“The only historic deed they were able to accomplish is to make the chamber a pawn for carrying out a personal vendetta,” the journalists said.
Congressmen have repeatedly denied that the rejection of ABS-CBN’s franchise bid is tied to press freedom.
with FRANCIS T. WAKEFIELD
and MJ BLANCAFLOR