No  evidence that ABS-CBN violated the laws —Zarate

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The marathon House hearings on the ABS-CBN franchise issue were not able to find evidence to show that the network violated constitutional provisions and other related laws, Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Zarate said.

Zarate was one of the two lawmakers—the other being Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta—who gave a summation of the issues and findings in the 12 lengthy hearings of the House Committees on Legislative Franchises and on Good Government and Public Accountability on the ABS-CBN franchise issue.

“Matapos ang napakaraming bintang, walang napatunayan na pagkakasala ang ABS-CBN. Sa halip, nakita natin ang kaniyang pakinabang sa bayan bilang tagapaglingkod,” Zarate said during his summation.

Zarate said that ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Gabby Lopez III is a Filipino citizen, as affirmed by the Department of Justice, and thus can own a mass media company.

Zarate said that according to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the ABS-CBN’s sale of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) was in compliance with the law.

Zarate also said the Bureau of Internal Revenue attested that ABS-CBN regularly paid its taxes, and that the Commission on Elections said the network did not violate election laws.

He added that while ABS-CBN committed violations of labor laws, the Department of Labor and Employment said that the network was cooperative in their process of clarifying these violations and was always compliant with the law.

Zarate said  that depriving ABS-CBN a franchise to operate and shutting it down completely would only put the jobs of its more than 11,000 workers at risk.

Zarate called on his colleagues to consider public interest as they vote to whether or not grant ABS-CBN a new franchise to operate.

But as far as Marcoleta is concerned, ABS-CBN had indeed committed violations to the Constitution and other pertinent laws as he himself has accused at the start of the hearings.

He said that Lopez was indeed an American citizen, and ABS-CBN was not able to show proof that Lopez’s parents were still Filipino citizens when he was born in the United States in 1952.

“Kailangan pa rin mapatunayan ni Ginoong Lopez na Pilipino pa rin ang kanyang mga magulang noong isinilang siya para magkabisa ang jus sanguinis principle,” Marcoleta said.

Marcoleta also maintained that ABS-CBN violated the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership and participation when it sold 187 million PDRs to foreign entities.

“Said [PDR] holders are deemed beneficial owners of underlying stocks of ABS-CBN with corporate control-enhancing mechanisms that can influence the major corporate actions that management may institute,” he said.

He added that the hearings were able to prove that “ABS-CBN violated its franchise by airing multiple channels through TVPlus,” that the network “sold digital receivers of blackboxes to the viewing public without the approval of NTC,” and that “it offered pay-per-view events through TVPlus without the approval of NTC.”

“NTC itself confirmed that based on its existing regulations, ABS-CBN was not authorized to encrypt or lock non-paying public its TVPlus channels using its free-to-air frequency under its franchise,” Marcoleta said.

“ABS-CBN even utilized the platforms of its subsidiaries SkyCable Corp., Amcara Broadcasting Network, and ABS-CBN Convergence in launching these illegal activities which by the way also compromise their respective franchises,” he added.

Marcoleta also insisted that the block-time agreement between ABS-CBN and Amcara was usufruct, and that the network used Big Dipper Digital Content and Design Inc. as a tax shield.

“Big Dipper has no other clients than ABS-CBN and its subsidiaries. It has only one foreign, client, ABS-CBN Global Hungary na walang empleyado kahit isa. In other words, BIR exists only for and only because of ABS-CBN,” he said.

He likewise said the hearings eloquently bared that ABS-CBN violated the rights of its workers and “consistently denied its employees security of tenure and benefits that come with it.”

Marcoleta also said that ABS-CBN’s supposed political bias in favor or against electoral candidates is no longer new and can no longer be masked behind the issue of press freedom.

He maintained that the possible denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise cannot be considered tantamount to a violation of press freedom and free speech.

“Kung tatanggapin natin ang misleading na argumentong ito, edi yun pa lang napakaraming aplikasyon para sa renewal ng franchise ng mga radio and television stations noon ay dapat pinagbigyan na lang natin lahat,” he said.

“Kung tatanggapin natin yun, ang prangkisa will become a matter of right. Hindi na siya pribilehiyo. That will be in direct violation of the mandate reposed by the Constitution to Congress as the guardian of this special privilege,” he added.

The House has formed a technical working group to study and draft recommendations to the measures seeking to grant ABS-CBN another franchise.

The output of the TWG will be presented in the meeting of the House legislative franchise panel hearing tomorrow at 1 p.m.

Alvarez has yet to announce the final schedule for their voting.

However, a technical working group recommended to the House Committee on Legislative Franchises on Friday said ABS-CBN should not be granted a new broadcast franchise.

“The (group) determined that the likely consensus among members of this committee is to disapprove the application of ABS-CBN for another franchise,” said Deputy Speaker Pablo John Garcia, who read the report.

Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo voted against the findings of the 3-man committee, which is set to be voted upon by the 46 members of the franchise committee, and 39 ex-officio

A vote of at least 43 congressmen in favor of the resolution would mean that ABS-CBN would be denied a new broadcast franchise./Stacy Ang

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