Zarate says technical working group's findings on ABS-CBN franchise ‘worrisome’

Aleta Nieva Nishimori, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 11 2020 12:47 PM | Updated as of Jul 11 2020 01:03 PM

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MANILA – Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate on Saturday called "worrisome" the findings and conclusions of the technical working group of the House franchise committee, the body that recommended the denial of the ABS-CBN franchise application. 

“After kong mabasa 'yun, hindi lang ako nalungkot, the very least its worrisome 'yung mga implications nung mga ginawang conclusions at findings of facts doon ng technical working group at in-adopt ito ng committee kahapon,” Zarate said in an interview on ABS-CBN's Teleradyo. 

(I was saddened after reading it and at the implications of the conclusions and findings of facts in the Technical Working Group adopted by the committee yesterday is at the very least worrisome.) 

Voting 70 to 11, the House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Franchises on Friday rejected a new broadcast franchise for ABS-CBN Corp, a fulfillment of President Rodrigo Duterte's earlier declarations that he would take the network off the air. 

The committee, led by administration allies, adopted the TWG's recommendations drawn up with suspicious "alacrity" less than 24 hours after it was assembled, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman earlier said in a statement. 

Zarate said they were expecting the TWG to consolidate all the House bills on the ABS-CBN franchise and issue a substitute bill that would contain all the amendments and reforms that colleagues would want the network to institute in the new franchise. 

“Doon sa Technical Working Group pinasadahan 'yung 8 major issues na binato nila sa ABS-CBN. Pero ang nakita ko doon they supplanted 'yung kanilang findings and conclusions doon sa mga findings and conclusions doon sa mga regulatory body," said the Bayan Muna sectoral lawmaker. 

(The Technical Working Group tackled the 8 major issues against ABS-CBN. But I saw there that they supplanted their findings and conclusions of the regulatory bodies.) 

He cited the issue of citizenship of ABS-CBN Chairman Emeritus Gabby Lopez, which has been clarified in previous hearings by the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Immigration. 

The DOJ has maintained that Lopez is a natural-born Filipino citizen, Zarate said. There is likewise no law prohibiting dual citizenship and that a Filipino citizen is allowed to own a broadcast company. 

“But dito, sinabi ng Technical Working Group report na inadopt ng komite, parang itinuturing niyang banyaga talaga si Mr. Gabby Lopez,” he said. “Yun ang isang tingin ko worrisome doon. As we speak now, wala namang pronouncement kahit sa korte na siya nga dayuhan at ang kaniyang dual citizenship ay ‘di pwedeng tanggapin at magmamay-ari siya ng any share of stock sa ABS-CBN.” 

(But here, the Technical Working Group report, which was adopted by the committee, treated Mr. Gabby Lopez as a foreigner. That’s what I find worrisome there. As we speak now, there is no pronouncement even from the court that he is a foreigner and that his dual citizenship is not acceptable.) 

The issue of the Philippine Depositary Receipts or PDRs also has a greater implication, he said. 

“Parang idineklara na rin nila doon na ang PDR ay unconstitutional dahil binibigyan daw ng karapatan ang mga dayuhan dito na may control sa isang media company,” he said. 

(It’s like they declared the PDR as unconstitutional because it allegedly gives rights to foreigners to control a media company.) 

He pointed out that the Securities and Exchange Commission have already said that a PDR is an investment instrument allowed by law. 

"Halos lahat ng major companies ay mayroon din mga PDRs. Ibig bang sabihin nito maghahain ng quo warranto proceedings ang Solicitor General’s office para ipawalang bisa rin ang mga prangkisa nitong mga kompanyang ito dahil sinasabi ng committee report na unconstitutional ito dahil binibgyan ng kontrol ang mga dayuhan, again contrary doon sa statement ng isang regulatory agency, ang Securities and Exchange Commission?” he said. 

(Almost all major companies have PDRs. Does this mean that the Solicitor General’s office would start quo warranto proceedings to cancel the franchise of companies because the committee report says it is unconstitutional because it gives control to foreigners contrary to the statement of a regulatory body, the Securities and Exchange Commission?)
He noted that Congress has the doctrine of primary jurisdiction, the right to delegate powers to agencies with competence on administrative issues. However, in this case, the statements of regulatory bodies were disregarded. 

The issue also has a chilling effect on foreign companies wanting to do business in the Philippines. 

“Ang isang network, isang malaking negosyo, sinabi naman ng mga regulatory agencies na tumutupad sa kanilang alituntunin ay naipasara mo, what kind of confidence na ibinigay mo sa negosyante 'yan?” he said. 

(What kind of confidence are you giving investors after closing down a big network which regulators say abided by the regulations?) 

The shutdown comes while the country is facing a pandemic, and 11,000 ABS-CBN workers now face unemployment.

“Bakit mo pinapasara ang isang kompanya na sinasabi ng regulatory agencies na wala namang ginagawang paglabag? Bakit mo ipasasara ang isang kompanya na inaamin ng BIR, for example, at ibang ahensiya na bilyon-bilyon ang magiging kontribusyon nito sa ating kaban ng bayan?” he said. 

(Why close down a company when regulatory agencies found no violations? Why close down a company which the BIR, for example, and other agencies admitted that it contributes to billions of pesos to the country’s coffers?) 

He said the company should have been given the chance to institute reforms and not closed down permanently. 

The past pronouncements of President Rodrigo Duterte against the network also added to the chilling effect. 

Duterte, in December 2019, declared that he would "see to it that you're out," referring to ABS-CBN. 

“Nagkakaroon ito ng chilling effect. Ang message rito, ‘O, nakita ninyo naipasara namin 'yung napakalaking broadcast network, puwedeng gawin ito kahit kanino,” he said.
(There’s a chilling effect. The message here is ‘see we closed down a big broadcast network and this can happen to anyone.')