Defensor addresses criticism on ABS-CBN franchise hearing

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 03 2020 12:40 PM | Updated as of Jul 07 2020 09:46 AM

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MANILA — One of the lawmakers leading deliberations at the House of Representatives for ABS-CBN's fresh franchise bid addressed on Friday criticisms raised against the conduct of hearings, considered among the longest held by the chamber's committee. 

The House committees on legislative franchises and good government panels this week tackled, among others, the network's alleged labor laws violations.

But critics have accused lawmakers of "hypocrisy" for suddenly "posturing" as labor champions when they allegedly overlooked the same labor issues raised against previous broadcast franchise applicants. 

Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor, vice chairman of the House good government committee, said such criticisms were "excessive."

"For people to say that we are out there for a permanent shutdown I think would be a little bit excessive... I've always been fair. There are problems and I've told Mr. [Carlo] Katigbak (ABS-CBN president and CEO) that there could be reforms that can be undertaken if and when the franchise is given," Defensor told ANC.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) had said that ABS-CBN Corp. complied with Philippine labor standards following a routine inspection conducted in 2019. 

Defensor acknowledged that there are some practices in the broadcast industry that have to be corrected.

"There are really conditions existing within ABS-CBN, and maybe the entire industry, that have to be corrected... I have friends in the stations, not necessarily media friends... The people there have been there for years and they're still not regular until now," Defensor said.

The lawmaker said the company should strike a "balance" and perhaps do away with extra benefits for employees in order to afford regularizing other workers. 

"These are mandated by law benefits and to be fair ABS-CBN is giving more of what is required by law so there has to be a balance... the balance of giving these benefits and making some people regular is something we have to address," said Defensor.

ABS-CBN Corp. and 16 other companies under the ABS-CBN Group have a combined total of 11,071 employees.

Under ABS-CBN Corp. only, there are 4,340 workers classified as regular, project or program employees, and 4,035 independent contractors and suppliers, said Mark Nepomuceno, former head of ABS-CBN corporate services group. 

Katigbak said the company is eyeing to regularize more employees, which it could only do if its franchise application is granted. 

Last May 5, despite a previous promise to Congress it would allow the network to operate while lawmakers deliberate on its franchise application, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) shut down ABS-CBN the day after its previous 25-year franchise expired. 

Its franchise renewal applications have been pending for years.

The NTC issued another cease-and-desist order on Tuesday, this time to prevent ABS-CBN's digital broadcast on its TVplus boxes, and Sky's direct-to-home satellite broadcast.