Atienza tells Cayetano: Stop congressional probes on ABS-CBN, Lopezes

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 29 2020 09:10 PM

MANILA - Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza on Wednesday asked House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to stop the plan of their colleagues to launch separate congressional investigations into the Lopez family and ABS-CBN Corporation.

Among the issues House lawmakers want investigated are the alleged loan condonation favoring Lopez-controlled firms, the allegedly onerous title of ABS-CBN Corporation to its property in Mother Ignacia in Quezon City, and the blocktime agreement between ABS-CBN and Amcara Broadcasting Network.

"Mr. Speaker, that is another request that I am making. Don't allow the further investigation of the alleged Lopez evil deeds. 'Di po maganda 'yan," Atienza said in a Facebook live video.

"Para talagang gusto niyo lang mamersonal, and it will not be understood by everyone. In fact, (they) will misunderstand your intention, no matter how good your intentions may be," he said.

"Lalabas kayong negatibo, malupit, at 'di niyo ginagalang ang kalagayan ninuman."

Atienza, who advocated for a new franchise for ABS-CBN, said he cannot agree with what appears to him as the desire of those asking for the probe to see the Lopezes go through more sufferings.

"Mali ang timing ngayon niyan - ungkatin mo mga usaping 'yan dahil nakadapa na mga tao," he said.

"Para sa akin, bago natin talakayin 'yang mga issue na inyong inuungkat ngayon,' yung property, ABS compound, 'yung Amcara, 'yung mga ibang alleged violations committed by the Lopezes, take up-in natin 'yan after we dispose with finality the issue of the franchise."

Atienza reiterated his demand, as well as of other lawmakers, for the entire House of Representatives to deliberate on the franchise application of ABS-CBN, saying, "hindi po kami happy sa nangyari sa committee level."

Despite relevant government agencies clearing ABS-CBN of alleged irregularities and delinquencies, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises and leaders of the chamber voted 70-11 last July 10 to deny the network of a new franchise, effectively fulfilling President Rodrigo Duterte's threat against the network.

"May ugali tayong Pilipino (na) 'pag yung kalaban mo nakadapa na, 'wag mo sisipain. 'Pag sinipa mo 'yan, the whole world will condemn you. Walang kwenta kang tao, 'di ka Pilipino," Atienza said.

"Kailangan ngayon, kung gusto niyo magkaisa tayo, gawin natin ang tama. Plenary discussion for the issue of the franchise deserved by the ABS-CBN people, para 'yung nawalan ng trabaho, magkakaroon ng pag-asa. Dahil kung hindi, lalabas napakalupit ninyo. 'Di kayo patatawarin ng kasaysayan at ng mamamayan. 'Di natutulog ang Diyos," he added.

In a separate statement, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the issues being sought for further investigation are better left to the judicial system.

“Let me just reiterate what I have said before: Let the proper court adjudicate the alleged violations of ABS-CBN and impose the corresponding penalties if warranted. The resolution of these purported infractions cannot be left to legislators who have obviously prejudged the issues," said Lagman, who had also favored the granting of a new franchise to ABS-CBN.

"Congressional investigations in aid of persecution should never be allowed. Legislative inquisitions are anathema to responsible lawmaking," he said.

Other non-administration lawmakers, on the other hand, expressed openness to the investigations being sought.

ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro said she has not seen the House Resolutions filed by Representatives Claudine Bautista, Paolo Duterte, Eric Yap, Mike Defensor, Jesus Crispin Remulla, Rodante Marcoleta, and Elpidio Barzaga. But to her, this is proof that the matter of the ABS-CBN franchise is not yet finished. 

Castro believes it is better if these are pursued in aid of corrective legislation, even as she welcomes ABS-CBN’s offer for government to use its facilities for its distance learning program for students during the coronavirus pandemic.

Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo, who voted against the Technical Working Group's recommendations denying ABS-CBN a new franchise, also would want to read the resolutions first.

Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin said it would be good to proceed with the investigations so that necessary corrections can be made.

Marikina 1st District Rep. Bayani Fernando backed the investigations also, with focus on the government agencies that should have been regulating ABS-CBN’s businesses.

The same goes for House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante, who said he does not want people to think the whole Congress is trying to persecute ABS-CBN.

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.

'NO BEHEST LOANS, SPECIAL FAVORS FROM DBP' 

In a statement back in 2011 when the DBP loan issue came up in a broadsheet newspaper, Lopez Holdings Corp. denied being the "recipient of special favors from the DBP." 

"Lopez Holdings and its operating units were never recipients of behest loans from any government financial institution. All debts incurred were provided by institutions that had all the time and the opportunity to review our investment portfolio, and had the same opportunity to refuse us credit," Lopez Holdings Corp. president Salvador Tirona said in a published letter to the editor.

He said: "DBP provided loans to Lopez Group companies only as part of consortia that included many other banks. A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) law was enacted in 2002 to help all banks clean up their books as a result of the Asian financial crisis of 1997, which affected other companies as well."

"Some of the write-offs referred to in the two columns were results of court action where all lenders, not just DBP, booked losses. The biggest loss was taken by Lopez Holdings Corporation, which had to write off a total of P20.7 billion in equity and advances to Maynilad Water Services Inc. and Bayan Telecommunications Inc.," Tirona said. 

"It is not as if our companies borrowed to speculate in the stock market. We invested in real infrastructure and real businesses that suffered economic losses, partly due to the crisis but mainly due to the hostile regulatory regime prevailing at that time," he added. 

Lopez Holdings Corp. reiterated this after Pres. Duterte alleged in 2017 that Benpres, the old name of the holding company, still hasn't settled its debts to DBP. 

"Lopez Holdings Corp does not have any unpaid obligations to the Development Bank of the Philippines or other government financial institutions," the company said in a statement nearly 3 years ago. 

"All debt papers, including those sold by DBP to the SPV were eventually settled by the company," it said.

Meantime, during the ABS-CBN franchise hearings, officials defended the blocktime arrangement with Amcara, saying this was a common practice and allowed by the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP). 

Amcara's Channel 43 airs ABS-CBN content under a block-time arrangement, which is "a standard commercial agreement where a company is allowed to buy airtime from a duly licensed broadcaster and to air our programs," ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak said. 

Blocktime is also a standard global practice in the broadcasting industry, KBP president Jun Nicdao also said. 

"'Yung blocktime agreement po ever since ina-allow yan ng KBP. There are rules and regulations governing blocktime agreements and this is not a usufruct agreement. We stand by that," Atty. Antonio Veloso of Amcara told congressmen. 

ABS-CBN also presented the original land titles of its property in Mother Ignacia St., Quezon City to the House legislative franchises committee. 

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