MANILA — A lawmaker who voted against ABS-CBN's bid for a new franchise said Tuesday that Sen. Grace Poe was "mistaken" when she questioned the decision of a House panel to deny the network's broadcast license even as Congress gave "full consideration" for third telco player DITO Telecommunity last year despite infringements on its original legislative franchise.
"Senator Grace Poe is mistaken... She should look at what Congress did during that time," said Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor.
Poe, in comments Monday, had cited how the House of Representatives gave DITO, formerly known as Mislatel, "time to formalize its consortium... including allowing the transfer of its controlling interest to an entity with substantial foreign shareholdings."
"This is far from ABS-CBN's case which was ordered to shut down even before its violations were duly discussed and even after the media entity sufficiently answered all allegations on the committee floor," said Poe, who chairs the Senate public services committee in charge of issuing franchises.
DITO Telecommunity, known as Mislatel at the time of House proceedings, is a consortium of China Telecom, Chelsea Logistics and Udenna Corp, owned by Davao tycoon Dennis Uy, who backed Duterte's presidential bid in 2016.
Speaking on ANC, Defensor cited how the House of Representatives in March asked the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to allow ABS-CBN to operate provisionally beyond the May 4 expiration of its franchise, while lawmakers had yet to tackle its license renewal, he said.
Defensor said he filed a resolution that accused NTC of "usurping the powers of Congress" when it followed the advice of Solicitor General Jose Calida and forced ABS-CBN off air on May 5.
"When we started the hearings, no one really had a clear decision on what to do. We all wanted to hear out ABS-CBN. In fact, initially, I was perceived to be siding with ABS-CBN," he said.
The House franchise committee permanently shut down ABS-CBN's free television and radio services in a vote of 70-11 last Friday, which put at risk the job of 11,000 workers and spawned accusations of an attack against press freedom.
It was seen as the administration-dominated chamber's fulfillment of President Rodrigo Duterte's promise to take the network off the air.
The "key issues" that led to the franchise denial include the network's Philippine deposit receipts (PDRs), alleged tax evasion and labor practices, he said.
During the marathon franchise hearings, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Commissioner Ephyro Luis Amatong had said PDRs "do not reflect transfer of ownership to foreigners."
Contrary to allegations of tax irregularities, the Bureau of Internal Revenue meanwhile testified that the network regularly settled taxes and is one of the country's top taxpayers, said the lawmaker.
Philippine Economic Zone Authority officials also said the broadcaster has no tax shield.
A labor official also said ABS-CBN complied with standards.
Poe said Congress should have given ABS-CBN the same "considerations" it gave Mislatel."
"It is a mystery why ABS-CBN, also a major media player, is deprived of such consideration and opportunity to rectify whatever supposed violations it committed," said Poe.
news.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.
- With a report from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News