Poe debunks bias claims in Senate hearing on ABS-CBN franchise


Posted at Feb 26 2020 12:15 PM | Updated as of Feb 26 2020 12:31 PM

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MANILA - Senator Grace Poe on Wednesday addressed perceived bias against her for holding a hearing on ABS-CBN's franchise woes given her family's business relationship with the network.

"Number 1, I am the chairman of the Committee on Public Services. No.2, it’s no secret the business relationship of my family with ABS-CBN. No. 3, I am only one of 24 senators. Whatever I say, even if I am for it or against it, if the majority will not side with my opinion, it will not prevail," Poe said in an interview with ANC's Headstart.

Poe's father is the late movie actor Fernando Poe Jr, whose movie "Ang Probinsyano" has been used as basis for the popular TV series topbilled by Coco Martin. Her mother actress Susan Roces is also a talent of ABS-CBN.

In the interview, Poe said last Monday’s hearing was conducted with fairness, allowing everyone--for and against the network's application for renewal--to speak.

"The chairman of a hearing will allow everyone to speak. We were the ones, I in particularly, made sure that the FICTAP (Federation of International Cable TV Associations of the Philippines), the ones against the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise was invited. I allowed them to speak and everyone else. In fact, members of the labor group of ABS-CBN I didn’t call them, Sen. Angara I think asked," she said.

Poe said they did not vet the resource persons and allowed them to say what they want to say during the hearing.

"Did I allow everyone to speak? I allowed Sen. Bato [Ronald Dela Rosa] to speak as long as he wanted and I knew from the start he was apprehensive about giving ABS-CBN its franchise."

"If you ask all of my colleagues, I keep repeating 'I'm going to have my hearings this time. I hope you can attend'. So, where's the bias there?" she said.

Poe's committee on Monday gathered groups and officials from the network and from government to tackle issues on ABS-CBN's franchise.

During the hearing, an official of the Bureau of Internal Revenue said ABS-CBN Corp. regularly pays taxes. The Securities and Exchange Commission said it is not aware of any violation or ongoing complaint or investigation involving the company.

ABS-CBN President and Chief Executive Officer Carlo L. Katigbak countered claims that the company violated franchise terms. He clarified that ABS-CBN was able to air all the national political advertisements of then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte before the 2016 polls but failed to air some of his local ads due to limits on air time.

He also offered an apology if the President was offended by a 2016 campaign ad paid for by former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV that was aired on ABS-CBN.

Duterte has frequently criticized ABS-CBN for its alleged bias, saying he would make sure the company's franchise will not be renewed by Congress. 

The Kapamilya Box Office (KBO) offering, which allows subscribers to view a specific set of movies for a fee of P30, was one of the supposed violations cited by Solicitor General Jose Calida in pushing for the shutdown of the Philippines' largest broadcaster.

But Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said ABS-CBN's broadcast franchise authorized the network to introduce pay-per-view feature, citing previous justice department opinion which interpreted the phrase "commercial purposes".

The feature would still be subject to “any specific guidelines that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) may impose,” he said.

The House of Representatives has yet to act on several bills filed for the renewal of the company's license to operate which expires on May 4.

Meanwhile, Poe clarified that her committee had conducted similar hearings in the past, dismissing claims she is giving preferential treatment to ABS-CBN.

"The media is just more interested in this hearing. We've conducted hearings on networks. We've had a hearing on GMA-7 for the franchise renewal. This was I believe in 2017. Just recently, we conducted a hearing on the issue of Eddie Garcia, the labor standards that are practiced in network," she said.

"Mas interesado lang ang mga tao ngayon kasi malaki talaga ang nakasalalay dito. The franchise of ABS-CBN and other media companies is imbued with public interest," she said.

She reiterated that Monday's hearing is legal as the Constitution allows both houses of Congress the right for oversight. She hopes the hearing would pave the way to make the franchise law clearer. 

"Maybe there should be an amendment that says if it ends right before Congress adjourns that the NTC is authorize to give a provisional permit to operate," she said.