MANILA (UPDATED) — ABS-CBN in 2016 aired all the national political advertisements of then-presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte, but some of his local ads could not be aired due to an airtime limit, the media network's president and CEO said Monday.
Testifying at the Senate Public Services Committee hearing, ABS-CBN Corp. President and Chief Executive Officer Carlo L. Katigbak answered publicly for the first time President Duterte's accusation that the broadcast network swindled him after it allegedly failed to air his ads for the 2016 national elections.
"The President placed an order for P117 million worth of national ads, of which we aired all P117 million. In other words po, a hundred percent of the President’s ads which were ordered for national airing were accommodated and broadcast and aired by the station," Katigbak said.
"Doon po sa local ads, nagka-problema talaga kami," he added.
(With the local ads, we really encountered a problem.)
Only 2 minutes of local ads can be aired in an hour and many spots were already ordered on May 3, 2016, 4 days ahead of the last day of the campaign period, noted Katigbak.
"Our policy on all our ads is first come, first serve... There had been many previous telecast orders that came in ahead of the President's telecast order," he said.
Duterte placed an order of P65 million worth of local ads, of which ABS-CBN failed to air about P7 million, he said.
Out of the unaired ads, around P4 million was initially refunded and accepted by the Duterte campaign, Katigbak said.
ABS-CBN was "delayed" in refunding the remaining P2.6 million and the amount "was no longer accepted by the President," he said.
"On this issue, we acknowledge our shortcoming in our failure to release the refund in a timely manner," said Katigbak.
He also denied insinuations of bias for airing negative ads paid for by then-Senator Antonio Trillanes IV that allegedly maligned Duterte.
"We were sorry if we offended the President. That was not the intention of the network. We felt that we were just abiding by the laws and regulations that surround the airing of political ads," he said.
"Today, we want to make a categorical statement together with our chairman Mark Lopez that ABS does not and will not have its own political agenda."
OTHER POLITICIANS HAD UNAIRED ADS, TOO
ABS-CBN last year also failed to air "millions" of pesos worth of political ads for the Otso Diretso opposition Senate slate, which could have changed the outcome of the elections, said Liberal Party president Sen. Francis Pangilinan.
"Kung iisipin ng ating mga kababayan na may bias siguro, walang bias sa amin... May hinanakit din kami, pero hindi namin dadalhin sa usapin na mawawalan ng trabaho ang 11,000 mga kababayan natin," he said.
(If our compatriots think that the network has bias for us, there is none. We also have some resentment, but we will not raise this issue which would make 11,000 people lose their jobs.)
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said ABS-CBN also failed to air some of his ads when he ran with the opposition in the 2013 elections.
Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Francis Tolentino and Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto also had unaired ABS-CBN ads, said Zubiri.
"Siyempre, hirap na nga kami nasa opposition. kung nakakuha man tayo ng pondo, naka-file ka ng ads place ta's ang sama ng loob mo na hindi ipinalabas," he said.
(Of course, it's difficult for us in the opposition to get funds and place ads, you'll have resentment if these are not shown.)
He urged ABS-CBN to inform candidates immediately if its advertisement spots were already filled so they could tap other networks.
ABS-CBN POLICY CHANGE
Spots are paid before broadcast to help the network comply with a Commission on Elections order to submit all relevant docs, including official receipts, within 5 days of signing an agreement with candidates, said Katigbak.
"We just want to make sure that there's no difficulty in issuing the official receipt due to collection issues," he said.
ABS-CBN last year implemented a policy of returning checks to advertisers if their spot is not aired within 7 days, he added.
"We continue to try and improve on our shortcomings. We hope that in the succeeding elections, we do a better job of things," said Katigbak.
Duterte has threatened to file multiple estafa raps against the company, but none has been filed. He also said Congress should not renew ABS-CBN's 25-year broadcast franchise, which expires on March 30.
Last December, he urged ABS-CBN's owners to just sell the company.
The House of Representatives has yet to tackle several bills seeking the renewal of the media outlet's license to operate. Earlier this month, the government's top lawyer also asked the Supreme Court to scrap ABS-CBN's franchise due to supposed abuses.
ABS-CBN had said it did not violate any law in its 65-year service.
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