President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said he will not allow the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to issue a permit to operate to ABS-CBN even if Congress renewed the network’s franchise.
In a televised meeting on government's COVID-19 response, the President said he knew of plans to give the network a chance to use free TV and radio frequencies again after a congressional committee last year rejected the renewal of its lapsed franchise.
"Itong nangyari sa itong mga Lopez Group of Companies. Ang Congress is planning to restore the franchise of the Lopezes. Wala akong problema doon kung i-restore ninyo. But if you say that if they can operate kung may --- may ano na sila, no, I will not allow them,” Duterte said.
Several lawmakers have filed bills seeking to revive the broadcast franchise of ABS-CBN, including Deputy Speaker Vilma Santos, Camarines Sur 3rd District Rep. Gabriel Bordado, and Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
Duterte said the Lopezes must first settle their alleged tax liability - a claim that the Bureau of Internal Revenue had long debunked.
“Unless and until mabayaran ng mga Lopez ang taxes nila, I will not --- I will ignore your franchise and I will not give them the license to operate. Kalokohan ‘yan. Parang binigyan mo sila ng prize for their being --- for committing criminal acts," Duterte claimed.
At last year’s House hearings on the ABS-CBN franchise, BIR Assistant Commissioner Manuel Mapoy told lawmakers said ABS-CBN had been regularly paying its corporate taxes for the past years and that "there is no outstanding delinquent accounts as we speak."
In the briefing, the President also cited the issue of the alleged Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) condonation of loans from businesses belonging to the Lopezes.
“Iyong --- ito ‘yung pinagbili ng ano, pinagbili ng Lopez iyong Lopez of Companies kasi maraming utang. So binili nila na lahat --- pati ‘yung mga utang, pinagbili ng Lopez doon sa DBP,” Duterte said.
“Ewan ko, ito bangko ito pero na --- napabili nila ang --- ang kanilang utang lahat doon sa DBP. But after a few years, binili ng DBP uli 'yung pinagbili nila sa... Ipinagbili nila sa DBP iyong pinagbili nila. This time, medyo wala na 'yung mga utang-utang. Condone, kung ano-ano ang nilagay nila,” he added.
However, during a congressional hearing last month, state-owned DBP denied allegations that it condoned or wrote off loans of the Lopez groups of companies.
DBP president Emmanuel Herbosa said there was nothing irregular in the bank's disposal of the non-performing loans (NPLs) and non-performing assets (NPAs) by the companies belonging then to the Lopez Group.
“These NPLs and NPAs were dealt with in the regular course of business and disposed of by DBP pursuant to Republic Act No. 9182, entitled The Special Purpose Vehicles Act of 2002, as amended by RA No. 9343 and other applicable laws, which authorized financial institutions, like DBP to transfer NPLs and NPAs to SPVs (special purpose vehicles) created under the Act,” Herbosa said.
Duterte admitted that he does not know all the details about the issue and that he just received a document about this.
He said he planned to forward it to the Office of the Ombudsman.
"Mayroon akong kulang dito because I am not quite familiar. Ito lang ang akin eh. Dumating sa akin ito in official capacity. Ang magawa ko lang nito is I think I'll pass it on to the Ombudsman. Para sa akin ang Ombudsman ang pinaka- independent body na mag-solve nito,” the President said.