By Felipe F. Salvosa II in Manila
ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Lopez Katigbak has broken his silence amid the controversy over renewal of the Philippine TV giant’s broadcast franchise, which expires in one month.
Katigbak, in a video posted on the ABS-CBN News site and aired over flagship newscast TV Patrol on Thursday, vowed to follow the process of renewing the network’s licence and answer all allegations raised by Solicitor-General Jose Calida in a quo warranto petition filed with the Supreme Court last week.
“Wala po kaming nakikitang dahilan para hindi magtuloy ang paglilingkod ng ating ABS-CBN. Gayun pa man, kami ay handang sumunod sa anumang proseso na dapat pagdaanan ayon sa batas,” said Katigbak, president of ABS-CBN since 2016.
[We don’t see any reason to stop the service of our ABS-CBN. Nonetheless, we are willing to go through whatever process is required by law.]
Calida accused ABS-CBN of circumventing the constitutional ban on foreign ownership, pointing to ABS-CBN having issued Philippine Depositary Receipts to foreign investors, illegally charging subscribers to a digital movie channel, and illegally operating a mobile service.
ABS-CBN has denied any wrongdoing, and legal experts have said that the supposed “highly abusive practices” of the TV network were not enough grounds to shut down the country’s largest television network and should be raised instead before regulatory agencies or lower courts, not the Supreme Court.
Katigbak also thanked individuals and groups that had expressed support for ABS-CBN.
“Ang mga pahayag ninyo ay nagbibigay sa amin ng tibay ng loob at lakas, lalong lalo na sa oras ng matinding pagsubok [Your statements give us courage and strength, especially in these trying times],” he said.
Expiry means shutdown
Also on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon warned that ABS-CBN would have to shut down when its 25-year franchise, under Republic Act 7966, expires on March 30, 2020.
ABS-CBN’s Carlo Katigbak speaking on TV Patrol [In Tagalog].
Drilon told ABS-CBN News reporter Karen Davila that pronouncements by some lawmakers that ABS-CBN would be allowed to operate on a temporary license until the end of the current session of Congress, as legislators deliberate on the franchise extension, were mere theories.
“There are Supreme Court decisions that say that the National Telecommunication Commission cannot issue an operating permit without a franchise being granted to the licensee. That has been settled by the Supreme Court. Therefore on April 1, if there is no extension of the franchise, tapos na [it’s finished],” he said.
Drilon said a resolution of both houses, which he proposed earlier this week, was needed to temporarily extend the franchise, adding “I do not want to risk the livelihood of 11,000 ABS-CBN employees on a theory that ABS-CBN and its 11,000 workers can continue after March 30 without a franchise.”
Presidential signature needed
But it must be signed by President Rodrigo Duterte, who had vowed to block a new franchise for ABS-CBN, he said.
“Let me make it very clear, once enacted our joint resolution has the effect and force of a law and it must be approved by the president,” he said.
On Friday, the Malacañang Palace appeared to backtrack on Duterte’s previous statements against ABS-CBN and told Congress to do its job.
“You know, the president made utterances against ABS-CBN. He made certain statements like, ‘I’ll shut down.’ But hindi naman literally iyon e [It’s not literal]. He wants to shut down the fraudulent practices of your network,” Duterte spokesman Salvador Panelo told ABS-CBN’s Karen Davila.
“Why does the speaker (House Speaker Alan Cayetano) have to take a cue from Malacañang? Why do members of Congress have to wait for what the President will say about anything?”
Felipe F. Salvosa is coordinator of the journalism programme at the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines and a contributor to Asia Pacific Report.