One of the postulates in Law states that “what may not be done directly, may not be done indirectly.”
From all indications, the recent “blocktime deal” between the ABS-CBN Corp. and Zoe Broadcasting Inc. violates this edict.
The deal also violates the legislative franchise of Zoe Broadcasting Inc.
ABS-CBN Corp. used to operate television channel 2 and its affiliate radio stations, until its legislative franchise expired on 4 May 2020 and Congress refused to renew the same.
Zoe Broadcasting Inc. operates television channel 11. This broadcast facility is run by Eddie Villanueva, the main man of the Jesus Is Lord Church Worldwide based in the Philippines.
He is also a partylist member of Congress representing CIBAC, the political arm of his church. The latest record identifies him as one of the deputy speakers of the House of Representatives.
Villanueva made two unsuccessful bids for the presidency — in 2004 and 2010 — but failed in both.
The controversial Senator Joel Villanueva is his son, and immediately preceding CIBAC representative in the House. Media commentaries have linked the senator to anomalies in government.
Father and son used their influence at the pulpit to obtain political power, and they have no regard for the constitutionally mandated separation of Church and State.
Just this month, ABS-CBN announced that its programs are back on free television through Zoe’s TV Channel 11. Under a supposed blocktime deal, Zoe will air ABS-CBN shows during the bulk of the daylight hours and on to the prime time evening period, until about 9 p.m., when Zoe’s religious programs go on the air.
Even the channel’s name was changed to the A2Z Channel, with A2Z representing ABS-CBN Channel 2, and Z for Zoe.
In the broadcast media industry, a blocktimer only goes on the air during a small fraction of the daily broadcast hours of the host station. The deal between ABS-CBN and Zoe can hardly be called a blocktime deal because the bulk of the daily programming of A2Z Channel 11 consists of programs produced by ABS-CBN. In fact, anyone who watches A2Z can readily get the impression that ABS-CBN simply transferred to the Zoe TV channel.
This is the first time in local television history that a host station changed its channel name to accommodate a blocktimer.
The legislative charter of Zoe is Republic Act 7297 (1992), as amended by Republic Acts 7968 (1995) and 10888 (2016).
Section 11 of the franchise states that Zoe shall not, among others, lease, transfer, grant the usufruct of, assign its franchise or the rights and privileges acquired under its franchise, to any person or corporation, without the prior approval of Congress.
The deal between ABS-CBN and Zoe does not indicate if the prior approval of Congress was obtained by both broadcasting firms.
If no such prior congressional approval had been obtained, then the so-called blocktime deal involving A2Z Channel 11 is a violation of the legislative franchise of Zoe, which is something the House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Franchises should investigate.
Likewise, if ABS-CBN is, indeed, a mere blocktimer with Zoe, then the programs on A2Z Channel 11 should emanate from the Zoe transmitter, and not from that of ABS-CBN. To allow otherwise will be a violation of the legislative franchise of Zoe.
It will also be a means for ABS-CBN to return to the airwaves without a legislative franchise, which is a violation of Act 3846.
ABS-CBN once had a similar arrangement with the Amcara Broadcasting Network. That deal was halted after the House learned that the blocktime programs of ABS-CBN in Amcara emanated from the ABS-CBN transmitter.
One more point needs to be investigated.
Republic Act 10888 repealed Section 8 of Republic Act 7297, which pertains to the tax liabilities of Zoe Broadcasting Inc. A cursory reading of the Zoe franchise, as amended, suggests that all broadcast operations of Zoe are now tax-exempt.
That tax-exempt status bestowed on Zoe took place when its operations were limited to religious broadcasting. Now that A2Z is operational, Zoe is clearly engaged in profitable commerce while enjoying tax-exempt status. Is that fair?
Congress should also investigate this tax matter as well.