LOOK BACK: ABS-CBN execs defend company in franchise bid

Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 09 2021 07:00 PM | Updated as of Jul 09 2021 09:28 PM

LOOK BACK: ABS-CBN execs defend company in franchise bid 1
ABS-CBN executives (left to right) former ABS-CBN Corporate Services Group head Mark Nepomuceno, Group Financial Officer Rick Tan, Chairman Mark Lopez, President and CEO Carlo Katigbak, Chief Strategy Officer Raymund Miranda, and COO for broadcast Cory Vidanes, at a House of Representatives hearing on ABS-CBN's franchise renewal bid at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City, May 26, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

This article is part of a series commemorating the House of Representatives' 70-11 vote on July 10, 2020 rejecting ABS-CBN's franchise renewal. 

Exactly one year ago today, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises denied ABS-CBN Corporation's bid for a new 25-year franchise, dashing hopes of a return to free TV and radio broadcasting. 

The shutdown was widely seen as part of a worsening crackdown on the press under President Rodrigo Duterte, who had repeatedly threatened to take the channel off the air over complaints of partisanship during the 2016 elections.

But before ABS-CBN was denied a new license, its executives and lawyers were thrust into the spotlight when they appeared in several congressional hearings to defend the company from allegations of labor and franchise violations. 

The executives attended a highly anticipated Senate hearing on Feb. 24, 2020, where President and CEO Carlo Katigbak acknowledged the company's shortcomings and vowed to correct them.

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Katigbak, however, maintained that ABS-CBN did not violate any of the provisions of its then expiring franchise.

"While our commitment to serve is genuine, we also acknowledge that we are not a perfect organization. Where we have shortcomings, we acknowledge them, and work to correct them. May pagkukulang man kami, mas matimbang ang aming adhikain na makapaglingkod (Our desire to serve is greater than our shortcomings)," he said.

Katigbak also apologized if a 2016 campaign ad of former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, which ABS-CBN aired, offended Duterte, and denied that the network had "its own political agenda."

"We were sorry if we offended the President. That was not the intention of the network. We felt that we were just abiding by the laws and regulations that surround the airing of political ads," he said.

The National Telecommunications Commission ordered ABS-CBN off the air on May 5, 2020, a day after its broadcast franchise expired.

Minutes before the network signed off, Katigbak and ABS-CBN Chairman Mark Lopez faced the public on TV Patrol, appealing for support.

"Ang makapaglingkod sa inyo ang aming misyon at ang aming kaligayahan. Ngayon po ay dumating ang araw na kami naman ang dumudulog at nananawagan sa inyo," Katigbak told ABS-CBN viewers.

(To serve you is our mission and it brings us joy. Today, we are the ones who are appealing for your help.)

"Masakit po sa amin na ipinasasara kami pero masakit din ito para sa milyon-milyong mga kababayan nating naniniwalang ang ating serbisyo ay mahalaga sa kanila," Lopez said.

(It hurts us that we are being forced to shut down, but this is also painful for the millions of households who believe that our service is important to them.)

On May 26, 2020, the House of Representatives held the first of 12 hearings on ABS-CBN franchise bills, where Katigbak appealed for a new license, citing the "suffering" of the company's 11,000 workers.

"Hindi po kami nagpapaawa. Umaapela po kami. Ibalik niyo po ang ABS-CBN para maprotektahan namin ang 11,000 kong Kapamilya at ang kanilang mga minamahal sa buhay," Katigbak said.

(We are not asking for pity. We appeal to you to bring ABS-CBN back on air so we can protect our 11,000 Kapamilya and their loved ones.)

"We want to do everything we can to protect our employees. Pero may hangganan din ang kakayahan ng kompanya namin (But our company also has its limits)," he added.

During the hearings, government regulators and other officials cleared ABS-CBN of allegations of tax fraud and violations of foreign ownership restrictions in mass media, among other issues.

In one hearing on labor issues, Katigbak even promised to look into the possibility of regularizing more employees after one lawmaker said some employees had been working in the company for decades but still did not enjoy the benefits of regularization.

"All of this is really about providing the best kind of employment for the workers of ABS-CBN . . . We can only do it if we are allowed to operate," he said.

LOOK BACK: ABS-CBN execs defend company in franchise bid 2
ABS-CBN Chairman Emeritus Eugenio "Gabby" Lopez III testifies via the internet before the House of Representatives hearing on the ABS-CBN Franchise on June 03, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

ABS-CBN Chairman Emeritus Eugenio "Gabby" Lopez III also attended the hearings to answer questions on his citizenship.

Lopez, who is both a Filipino and US citizen, stressed that he is a Filipino "in thought, word and deed" and asked lawmakers to look at his record of service.

"I stand by my record over the last 35 years. I have been committed to the people of this country. It is a trust that has been passed on to me by my father and by his father before him," he said.

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Former ABS-CBN General Manager Jake Almeda Lopez also faced the House panel, asking lawmakers to recognize the contributions of the network and its workers to society.

"If you don't renew our franchise, you are going to deprive the public of so much entertainment news and more or less the building of culture," said Lopez, who is unrelated to the Lopez family that owns the company.

ABS-CBN COO for Broadcast Cory Vidanes also said the channel's shows are anchored on Filipino family values.

"We tell stories that teach life lessons and our stories embody Filipino values. Filipino values like hard work, honesty, respect, resilience, and most of all, love for family, country, and God dahil po ang sentro ng aming mga kuwento ay ang pamilyang Pilipino," she said in response to one congressman's questions about the "morality" of some programs.

ABS-CBN News chief Ma. Regina Reyes, meanwhile, acknowledged some mistakes that news personnel have committed in the past in response to allegations of bias.

"Hindi kami perpekto. Wala pong news organization na perpekto. Sa kabila ng mga pag-iingat at pagbabantay ay inaamin po namin na nagkakamali rin po kami. Gayunpaman, agad din po kaming umaaksyon para itama ang mali," she said.

(We are not perfect. No news organization is. No matter how careful we are, mistakes can be made. But we immediately act to correct those mistakes.)

After the House committee voted to deny the network a fresh franchise, Katigbak said ABS-CBN was "deeply hurt" but stressed that the company remained "committed to public service."

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"We remain committed to public service, and we hope to find other ways to achieve our mission. Together with our employees and our audiences all over the world, we share in your sadness over this setback. We look forward to the day when we can again reunite under our broadcast," Katigbak said.

For Reyes, the franchise denial was not the end of the road for the company.

"Sinusubok tayo. Sinusubok ang ating values at ang ating paninindigan. Ganito yata talaga kapag mayroon tayong pinaglalaban. Talagang kailangan kang matalo para bumangon ka uli at magtagumpay," she said.

(We're being challenged. Our values and conviction are being tested. I think this is what happens when you are fighting for something. You really need to lose so you can get back up and win.)

Bantay Bata Executive Director Ernie Lopez, meanwhile, likened the denial of a franchise to the feeling of having someone die.

"Parang wake. Parang may namatay talaga (It's like a wake, like someone really died)," he said.

Without a franchise, ABS-CBN will go "fully digital," Lopez said.

ABS-CBN remains present in pay television and has been building up its online streaming and block-time deals with other TV networks.