Lawmaker denies gov't wants to seize ABS-CBN assets

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 17 2020 10:31 AM | Updated as of Jul 17 2020 11:17 AM

Workers and supporters hold a noise barrage around the ABS-CBN headquarters in Quezon City on July 15, 2020, 5 days after the House Committee on Legislative Franchise denied the network's franchise application. Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — The government does not want to sequester the facilities of ABS-CBN Corp and use these for the remote learning of students during the pandemic, a lawmaker said Friday. 

House Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund "LRay" Villafuerte said a government takeover of ABS-CBN assets was "never in my mind" when he wrote a resolution urging the use of ABS-CBN's frequency for educational programs after lawmakers denied its franchise renewal. 

"Mali po iyon... Ayaw namin mag-takeover. We are in a crisis, but we should not invoke that national emergency clause," he told ANC. "This should be done by negotiation, honest communication with the company willing to do it. If ABS doesn't want to do it, we don't have to force ABS-CBN." 

The government during crises can "temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately owned public utility or business affected with public interest," under Article 12 of the 1987 Constitution. 

The last time the government sequestered ABS-CBN's facilities was during martial law in 1972, under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who passed control of the network to his crony until 1986. 

While the government can take over ABS-CBN's frequency, which "reaches areas that other networks cannot," the state lacks a "costly" transmitter and technical personnel to air educational shows, said Villafuerte. 

"I think the win-win solution is why don't we just talk to ABS? They have the transmitter, they have the equipment, they have the personnel to run this immediately — if the government and ABS come to terms, of course," said the Congress representative of Camarines Sur's second district. 

"If we work with probably ABS or other companies that are willing to invest, the government can roll out as soon as possible. Definitely, government cannot do it on its own na mabilis po. Hindi ganoon kadali to just use the frequency, buy the transmitter and run the school TV," he added. 

(Government cannot do it on its own quickly. It's not that easy to just use the frequency, buy the transmitter and run the school TV.) 

However, the price tag for government's possible use of ABS-CBN facilities should be "reasonable", he said. 

"The government cannot enter a contract na over and above what it is capable of paying. We have to admit that the government cannot really pay for the entire ABS-CBN cost... However, it's still income for the company, it's still income for the employees," he said. 

Villafuerte also said that the use of ABS-CBN's frequency for pandemic learning was just "an afterthought" after he and 69 other lawmakers voted last July 10 to kill the network's franchise application and permanently shut down its radio and television services. 

"I just thought of it after the fact kasi nga maraming empleyado na hindi nagtatrabaho, nawalan ng trabaho so I was thinking to help these people... Afterthought na lang talaga ito. It's not really related to the denial," he said. 

Due to the franchise denial, ABS-CBN said Wednesday it was "forced to cease the operations of some of its businesses and implement a retrenchment program" effective August 31. 

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