MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte's supposed neutrality on ABS-CBN is limited only to the action of a House of Representatives committee rejecting the media network's bid for a new franchise, Malacañang said Tuesday even after the chief executive branded the owners of the company as "oligarchs."
"Neutral po siya sa botohan na nangyari sa Kongreso. Pero, meron din po sigurong mga personal na paninindigan at pinarating naman niya sa publiko. Pero, hindi po siya nakialam sa botohan ng Kongreso," Harry Roque, Duterte's spokesman, said in a Palace press briefing.
(He was neutral on the House vote. But he has personal views that he shared with the public. But he did not interfere in the House vote.)
On Monday, Duterte opened his fifth State of the Nation Address by attacking the Lopez family, which owns ABS-CBN, and claimed he was a casualty of the clan during the 2016 elections despite winning the presidency.
"Great wealth enables economic elites and corporations to influence public policy to their advantage. Media is a powerful tool in the hands of oligarchs like the Lopezes who used their media outlets in their battles with political figures," Duterte said in his address.
"I am a casualty of the Lopezes during the 2016 elections," he added.
Despite relevant government agencies clearing ABS-CBN of any irregularities and delinquencies, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises and leaders of the chamber voted 70-11 last July 10 to deny ABS-CBN a new broadcast franchise, in fulfillment of Duterte's previous threats against the network.
In reaction, Roque on that day reiterated Malacanang's "neutral stance on the issue," saying it "respects the separation of powers between the two co-equal branches of government."
Three days later, Duterte told government soldiers in Sulu that the Lopezes and the Ayalas are the bedrock of oligarchy in the country, and claimed he had dismantled them.
While he assailed ABS-CBN in his speech, he said he had nothing to do with its shutdown.
Despite the tirades, which notably were taken off the official transcript and aired video of Duterte's speech, Roque reiterated that the President is "of course neutral" on ABS-CBN, saying "the Lopezes are still up and about."
Roque said Tuesday that even though Duterte publicly said he has forgiven ABS-CBN, he still keeps a personal stance.
"Sinabi po ni Presidente, napatawad na niya doon sa personal, na sa tingin niya, nagawa sa kaniya at sa kaniyang pamilya. Pero, ganun pa man, mayroon pa ring mga paninindigan ang Presidente," Roque said.
(The President said he has forgiven the acts committed against his person and his family. But despite that, he still has a personal stance.)
"Hindi po siya nanghimasok doon sa botohan sa Kongreso. At habang dinidinig po ng Kongreso ang prangkisa ng ABS-CBN, hindi naman po siya umatake sa ABS-CBN. Nanahimik po siya at hinayaan niyang bumoto, sang-ayon sa konsiyensiya, ang mga kongresista," he added.
(He did not interfere in the House vote and he kept silent while Congress deliberated on the franchise. He did not attack ABS-CBN then, and he let congressmen vote according to their conscience.)
The rejection of a new franchise for ABS-CBN was the final nail on the Lopez-led network's free TV and radio broadcast operations, forcing the company to close down some of its businesses and let go of thousands of workers by end of August.
Roque also washed Duterte's hands off the retrenchment of workers in ABS-CBN, saying the President was not part of the House panel that killed its franchise.
"Hindi naman bumoto ang Presidente doon sa franchise committee at di po siya nanghimasok. Di po siya miyembro ng Kongreso," Roque said.
(The President did not vote with the franchise committee. He did not interfere. He is not a member of Congress.)
Aside from affecting the livelihood of the company's more than 11,000 workers amid a bruised economy caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the shutdown of ABS-CBN is also seen by various sectors as curtailment of the people's right to information, as well as of press freedom.
news.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.