MANILA--A Zoom meeting among congressmen revealed a plan to seize ABS-CBN's compound and equipment in Quezon City, including a fine of nearly P2 trillion, after working to reject a new broadcast franchise for the network, triggering massive layoffs.
House Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta also pushed for the shutdown of Sky Cable, which airs ABS-CBN's 24/7 English news channel, a move that would remove one of the few remaining news platforms available for the media network.
"They're trying to tighten the noose para talagang bitawan na nang buong-buo ng mga Lopezes yung broadcast business nila," Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate told ABS-CBN News, citing pressure on the family to sell the largest broadcast network in the Philippines.
In an online meeting hosted by Anakalusugan Rep. Michael Defensor last Friday, Marcoleta said he asked the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to impose a huge fine on ABS-CBN for rolling out TVplus digital boxes supposedly without government authorization.
"P1.97 trillion--halos kalahati ng ating national budget," he said, computing the amount based on the number of digital boxes sold by ABS-CBN in the last 5 years.
ABS-CBN pioneered the introduction of such TV receivers, known as set-top boxes, in compliance with the government's plan to shift from analog to digital TV technology by 2023.
The company has sold around 9 million TVplus units, which allowed households to enjoy digital picture quality in their analog television. Rival network GMA-7 introduced its own receivers only 5 years later.
With ABS-CBN's free TV and radio broadcast shut down, Marcoleta trained his sights on Sky Cable, alleging that it was operating with an expired franchise.
But NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba had told a congressional committee that cable TV operators did not need a franchise, citing an executive order by former President Corazon Aquino.
To test the "validity" of the Aquino order, Marcoleta said the NTC should shut down Sky Cable to prompt the network to go to the Supreme Court.
"Sabi ko, madali yun. Isara mo yun. Sigurado magdedemanda Ang ABS-CBN," he said, recalling a conversation with Cordoba."
"Dalawa yung pinagagawa ko sa kanya, yung aralin nga nila yung executive order saka tung multa na kinakailangang singilin sa ABS-CBN."
At one point during the Zoom meeting, Marcoleta told his colleagues that they should go after ABS-CBN's compound, including its equipment and facilities.
"Yung titulo, unahin natin," he said, to which Deputy Majority Leader Jesus Crispin Remulla replied: "Oo. Yung lupa, dapat imbestigahan yan."
Marcoleta later said: "Para makuha natin kaagad yun kasi komo yung principal, yung lupa, wala silang mabubuhat dun. Lahat ng mga chattel dun, improvements dun e pag-aari na ng gobyerno yun sapagkat ang lupa ay sa gobyerno. Lahat yun, accessories. Pag ti-nake-over yun, eh di madali silang makakapag-programa dun."
Marcoleta had raised questions during the franchise hearings over the validity of ABS-CBN's title to the property.
Zarate said the certified true copy of the title submitted by the network to the legislative franchises committee was an "incontrovertible proof of ownership" unless found invalid by the court.
Marcoleta should question the matter before the court but would need to prove that he is a "party in interest," said Zarate.
Remulla said their group should meet this week for a "follow-through action" after rejecting ABS-CBN's request to return on the air with a new franchise.
In a statement, ABS-CBN said it had "no knowledge of any proceedings that impose fines or penalties or claims against" its Quezon City property.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Malacañang had nothing to do with the lawmakers' fine and takeover plan.
"Wala po tayong komento diyan. Iyan po ay indibidwal na opinyon ng mga mambabatas, our policy makers. We respect their views, but we take no stand," he said in a press briefing.
news.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN News.
ABS-CBN franchise, ABS-CBN shutdown, Rodante Marcoleta, Carlos Zarate, Michael Defensor, Jesus Crispin Remulla, Gamaliel Cordoba, TVplus, Sky Cable, National Telecommunications Commission, Corazon Aquino