Privatising IBC-13. Finally, at long last!

Buddy Gomez

Posted at Jan 28 2016 12:53 AM | Updated as of Jan 28 2016 02:46 AM

Finally! And that has taken more than 25 years since the late Ambassador Roberto S. Benedicto ceded to the Republic of the Philippines ownership of his media empire--the InterContinental Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) and its real estate component, Broadcast City. This was November 30, 1990, done in Singapore, in exchange for immunity from prosecution and for peace of mind. Benedicto, it will be remembered, was the “sugar crony” of the unlamented dictator Marcos. He lorded it over the country’s sugar industry as one of the closest of Marcos’s partners in the grandest of larcenies ever perpetrated over the economic fortunes of the Philippines.

Privatisation and disposition of government assets acquired by way of sequestration, surrender and/or cession--all consequences of booting out the thieves--has always been the objective. The recovery of purloined wealth and its subsequent use for national economic rehab was the creed. And so, Executive Order No 1--the Presidential Commission on Government (PCGG) was born. The very first legal mandate and issuance of the Cory Aquino presidency. (February 28, 1986)

A few days ago, the present Aquino administration announced its decision to privatize IBC-13. Finally. But will the agony of Broadcast City finally come to an unassailable rest and eventual profitable ownership? Will it segue smoothly into private ownership and operation? You see, the delay and postponement, intentionally or unintentionally, suffered during the last 20 years have compounded, multiplied and magnified the travails of IBC-13 into one messy legal maze that beggars both wisdom and sanity. At least, it can be said that it took a second Aquino administration to finally unburden this government administration of an embarrassment not of its creation.

Perhaps it is the emergence of competing interests of predatory rats in the sewers of high government and among the ranks of an incoming crowd of very influential rent seekers at the onset of the President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) regime from which IBC’s aggravation can be traced. It appears that the PCGG was at the very center of the pretzel as it tenaciously clung to an undue interest in exercising “control and supervision” over an area it was precisely prevented from performing from the very get-go of E.O No 1.

NEVER SEQUESTERED

Contrary to what was publicly accepted to be unchallenged information, IBC-13 was never sequestered by the PCCG ! That is a fact. It is a matter of record that the first chairman of the PCGG, Jovito Salonga, precisely kept IBC-13 (broadcast media) separate and away from PCGG and had the Ministries of Defense and Information undertake that responsibility. Salonga thus requested then Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile and then Minister of Information Teodoro Locsin Jr. to take on that duty. Forthwith, the duo prepared the draft of the Executive Order (No. 11, promulgated in April 8, 1986) which created the “Board of Administrators” to “manage and operate the business and affairs” of IBC 13/Broadcast City.

E.O No. 1, which created the PCGG, and E.O. No 11, which created the “Board of Administrators,” are both revolutionary laws promulgated prior to the ratification of the 1987 Constitution. Both suffused with equal force and nature, they could only be amended or repealed by precise legislation. The exclusion of PCGG from meddling in media affairs has even been bolstered by subsequent Supreme Court decisions, so precise with an absence of ambiguity and equivocation that even non-lawyers (I am one) cannot fail to comprehend its meaning and import.

In Baseco vs PCGG, 150 SCRA 181: “It behooves PCGG to exercise the least possible interference with the business operation and activities of sequestered, frozen or taken over property.”

In Liwayway Publishing Inc. et al vs PCGG, 160 SCRA 716): “The Government, through PCGG, may not lawfully intervene and participate in the management and operation of a private mass media to maintain its freedom and independence as guaranteed by the Constitution.”

How and why in heaven’s name then was FVR’s PCGG allowed to muddle and meddle. I say by gall and gobbledygook. Evidently by way of legal legerdemain. The President, not being a lawyer, was ill advised into signing an executive order (EO No. 293-A) effectively engaging in legislation, amending a revolutionary Presidential issuance that can only be amended by an act of Congress! EO 293-A says: Broadcast City/IBC 13….. “….shall remain under the direct control and supervision of the Presidential Commission on Good Government.” By virtue of which, PCGG ran roughshod over IBC 13. It is a profound disservice to the President to have him sign a document that is so devoid of truth. Figure this out. How can IBC/Channel 13 “remain under” a condition that never existed, in the first place and was empirically never intended both by the Supreme Court and the revolutionary government.

It was PCGG that prevented Channel 13’s management (which then included the able services of Rino Basilio, GM; Dany Nacpil, VP/Finance; and Atty. Julius N. Raboca, Counsel) from having IBC registered as a wholly Government-Owned and -Controlled Corporation (GOCC) because then that would mean PCGG losing control over this precious, strategic and much-coveted asset. Media, as we all know, is a very critically useful political instrument. There were rumors at the time that PCGG was entertaining interested potential buyers with avowed closeness to the powers that be, as well as encouraging some parties with spurious claims to IBC’s ownership, in defiance of the Supreme Court and Ambassador Benedicto’s cession.

The Supreme Court’s confirmation (GR # 87710, March 31, 1992) of the validity of the Benedicto cession to the Republic of his total ownership of IBC meant that IBC was already, beyond question, an asset of the Republic. Thus, IBC had to be regarded as a full-fledged GOCC. This became a bone of contention that turned into a contentious fracas all because PCGG refused to let go. Motu proprio or under orders from above, we may never know.

It is unfortunate that this IBC-13 story has the potential of becoming an embarrassing episode of the FVR presidency. Not only because of the attendant apparently careless legal work. Legal scholars in the future just might deduce that a President did indeed encroach upon a purely Congressional prerogative. But also as an utter failure of staff work, specifically the unerring and proper vetting of a key appointment to the Cabinet. [Presidential Commission on] Good Government, no less.

FVR's POINT MAN

It is very possible that FVR was never told that his chosen point man at the helm of PCGG had previously faced two, not one but two, disbarment cases before the Supreme Court. (SCRA Vol. 89, March 30 1979 and SCRA Vol, 221, April 7, 1993---filed in April 1992). In the 1979 instance, the SC admonished the practicing attorney (prospective PCGG appointee) thus “a repetition of the same irregularity will be treated with more severity….a copy of this decision should be attached to respondent’s personal record.” (A research in the Malacanang Archives will show if in filing his curriculum vitae, this Supreme Court order was indeed complied with or whether it was intentionally omitted.) In the 1992 instance, a co-accused judge was dismissed from the judiciary, the respondent having “induced and conspired with the judge in granting his motions.” The Bar Confidant/Integrated Bar of the Philippines, supposed to be custodian of such records, may have lost such pertinent documents. In any case, it would definitely be unlikely that FVR would have appointed this lawyer, with an apparent shady background and questionable character, had he been fully briefed.

If you folks are wondering about the intimacy with which I am able to speak, about how sanguine I am, over IBC-13 matters, the answer is simple. As a matter of full disclosure, I was Chairman and President of the Intercontinental Broadcasting Corporation from 1993 to 1997. I was appointed by the President to fix the problems of IBC-13. Little was I ever to know that I may have become an impediment to designs crafted over the disposition of this national asset. Quite evidently, on the other hand, I knew I was an impediment. One early evening at Broadcast City, I received a phone call from the President’s office. I was informed that I was being replaced. But they did not know that IBC was already irrevocably a registered asset of the Republic.

It was at my direction and request that all the Benedicto shares of stock of the InterContinental Broadcasting Corporation, representing 100% ownership, be reissued by the Securities and Exchange Commission in the name of the Republic of the Philippines.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.