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Duterte taps Ombudsman to probe ABS-CBN’s cleared debt case

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President Rodrigo Duterte has declared that he would ask the Office of the Ombudsman to look into the purported unpaid debts of Lopez-owned ABS-CBN even if the network has been cleared of such allegations.

Duterte, in his speech Monday night, said he would ask the National Telecommunications Commission to stop the broadcast giant from going back on air even if it secures a fresh 25-year broadcast franchise from the Congress “unless and until” it could settle its alleged unpaid taxes.

He pointed out this is because the state-run Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) purportedly condoned the loans of several Lopez holdings in 2006.

Last month, DBP already belied allegations of some lawmakers that there was any irregularity in its disposal of the non-performing assets of the Lopez Group worth P1.6 billion.

Duterte, however, said he was handed evidence stating otherwise.

“I think I will pass it on to the Ombudsman. For me, the Ombudsman is the best independent body to resolve this since it involves government funds,” Duterte said.

Asked to elaborate the details of unpaid taxes and condoned loans of ABS-CBN which Duterte accused the network of committing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the ball is now up to the Ombudsman.

“The President had said that there was a violation of the Anti-Graft Law when ABS-CBN sold its assets to a company,” Roque said in a briefing Tuesday.

“The President said he would refer this matter to the Ombudsman. So, the Ombudsman would review if there is a cause of action for any violation of our Anti-Graft Laws,” Roque added.

The Ombudsman is mandated to act promptly on complaints filed against government officers or agencies, including government-owned or controlled corporations.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue, along with the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission, have maintained that ABS-CBN has been compliant with government regulations, contrary to allegations lodged against it.

The network ceased operations of its free TV and radio channels last May after its 25-year franchise expired. Two months later, the House of Representatives, dominated by administration’s allies, denied the network’s application for a new franchise.

Duterte has repeatedly threatened to shut down ABS-CBN as he accused the network of supposedly favoring his political opponent in the 2016 elections.

The President’s critics say he has gone after media outlets that closely documented his drug war, which has left thousands of people dead since he took office in 2016.

Last month, at least 15 senators expressed support for the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said. Batangas Representative Vilma Santos-Recto then filed a new bill in mid-January seeking to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN.

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