MANILA – The time of reckoning has come for media giant ABS-CBN over alleged breaches in its broadcast operations, Solicitor General Jose Calida said on Monday.
During the joint House Committee on Legislative Franchises and on Good Government and Public Accountability inquiry on the network’s franchise issue, Calida claimed that the ABS-CBN committed violations arising from its franchise, the laws and the Constitution.
“The time has come to expose ABS-CBN, whose owners and corporate officers continue to deceive the Filipino people into believing that they are ‘in the service of the Filipino people’,” Calida said.
“In truth, however, ABS-CBN is motivated not by service, but by greed and desire for power and influence. Their brazen act must come to an end. The hour of reckoning may have been delayed but it has now come,” he added.
He said ABS-CBN violated the nature and scope of its legislative franchise, when it allowed another entity, ABS-CBN Convergence, to make use of and abuse the former’s legislative franchise.
He cited Republic Act 7925, which states that no single franchise shall authorize an entity to engage in both telecommunications and broadcasting, either through the airwaves or by cable.
Calida also argued that ABS-CBN Corporation was not authorized to use free-to-air signals in its operations of the pay-per-view KBO Channel, noting that it continued operating despite being ordered by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to refrain from doing so and await the issuance of appropriate guidelines.
“ABS-CBN Corporation charges PHP30 or PHP99 from the viewing public to be able to watch the movies and other contents in the KBO Channel. ABS-CBN Corporation has aired movies, boxing shows, concerts, and other events in its KBO Channel for a fee and without obtaining prior approval from the NTC,” he said.
“These acts are evidently not covered by the legislative franchise granted by the State in favor of ABS-CBN Corporation,” he added.
He said the firm circumvented the foreign equity restriction in mass media entities provided under the Philippine Constitution through the use of Philippine Depository Receipts (PDRs).
“The PDRs unlocked the share value of ABS-CBN Corporation, allowing foreigners to participate in a media enterprise whose ownership is constitutionally limited to Filipinos,” he said.
Calida stressed that a legislative franchise is not a right, but a privilege subject to regulation under conditions that the government may see fit.
“Thus, in cases of misuse, non-use or abuse of a franchise, the state ought to reassert its authority and rise a grantor regardless of the grantee’s identity and influence,” he said.
“You may have committed too many violations which went unnoticed and unpunished but we are determined to root out such illegal practices,” he added.
Not at loggerheads with congress
During the same hearing, Calida also emphasized that he is not “at loggerheads” with Congress regarding the controversial franchise renewal issue of broadcast network ABS-CBN.
He made the statement during a House hearing after he was accused of “meddling with Congress” when he advised the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) not to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority that will allow the network to broadcast despite its expired franchise.
“I am not at loggerheads with Congress. In my letter to the NTC, I only cautioned the NTC of its possible encroachment on the legislative power if it issues a provisional authority without a law authorizing such action,” he said. “I never mentioned the name of Speaker Cayetano and any congressman in my advisory letter to the NTC or in any of my subsequent press releases.”
On May 5, the NTC issued a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN despite its earlier commitment to grant the network a provisional authority to operate while the franchise application is pending in Congress.
Flashed on a wide screen inside the plenary hall, the full text of SG Calida’s speech on Monday follows:
A fair investigation for ABS-CBN
This move is consistent with my position:
(a) under Act No. 3846 and PD No. 576-A, a franchise is required to operate radio and television stations within the Philippines;
(b) Congress has the exclusive and plenary power to grant a franchise, including its terms, conditions, and periods, and
(c) a franchise for broadcast must specifically be in the form of a statute.
I am not at loggerheads with Congress.
– I only cautioned the NTC of its possible encroachment on the legislative power
– I never mentioned the name of Speaker Cayetano and any congressman in my advisory letter to the NTC or in any of my subsequent press releases.
I. The Office of the Solicitor General as representative of the Republic of the Philippines has always upheld the rule of law.
The Holy Bible, in Leviticus 5:17, reads: If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible.
Under Roman law, ignorantia legis neminem excusat (ignorance of the law excuses no one).
(Ilocano) Amin ket agparin-tumeng ti linteg, baknang man wenno nakurapay!
(Visayas) Ang matag usa, adunahan man o kabus, muyukbu sa balaud.
Recently, we championed this fight for the rule of law in the likes of the Sereno and De Lima cases – both filed and won before the Supreme Court.
Bakit pa kami titigil ngayon? Responsibilidad naming ipagpatuloy ang labang ito hindi para sa aming sarili kundi para sa sambayanang Pilipino. We will endeavor to right every wrong no matter what the cost, no matter who we go up against.
The OSG, as the defender of the Republic and the People, has always been vigilant in its crusade for the rule of law and good governance. No less than our track record is a testament to this.
That the OSG is seeking before the Supreme Court is merely the correction of a legal wrong and nothing else – ito ay laban para lamang sa kung ano ang tama at naaayon sa batas.
II. There are prevailing legal principles that place me in a predicament and prevent me from fully participating in the present proceedings.
Currently there are two pending cases before the Supreme Court involving the broadcasting operations of ABS-CBN:
a) QW petition; and
b) Certiorari and prohibition against NTC
Some of the issues involved in these cases pertain to ABS-CBN’s violations of the Constitution and its franchise, which, according to your letter, are the subject of your current inquiry.
“Pinagbabawalan akong magsalita ukol sa kahit ano mang bagay na may kinalaman sa mga petisyong nakahain ngayon sa Korete Suprema ng dalawang prinsiyong legal.”
These are the principle of non-encroachment on the exclusive domain of judicial jurisdiction and sub judice rule.