Duterte: No license for ABS-CBN even if Congress grants franchise

AdChoiceTV News — President Rodrigo Duterte will not allow the National Telecommunications Commission to issue broadcast giant ABS-CBN Corp. even if it Congress grants it a legislative franchise.

The president, speaking at the weekly coronavirus task force, brought up loans of the Lopez Group of Companies that the Development Bank of the Philippines reportedly condoned in the 2000s. The DBP has submitted a position paper to a House panel conducting hearings on the loans and said that the bank did not do that.

It instead sold off the loans for P3.83 billion.

Duterte said he respects the legislative branch’s power to grant franchises, but said “I will not allow the NTC to give them the permit to operate.”

The president said that “unless and until mabayaran ng mga Lopez ang mga taxes nila (until the Lopezes pay theit taxes), I will ignore your franchise and I will not give them the license to operate,” before talking about the DBP loans.

He said he might ask the Office of the Ombudsman to look into the supposed loan condonation.

DBP president and chief executive officer Emmanuel Herbosa said in January that the bank “takes the position that there is no loan condonation or write-off involved in the non-performing loans (NPLs) and non-performing assets (NPAs) covered by the banking transactions with DBP of the companies controlled or affiliated with the Lopez family.” 

Herbosa said the bank sold its non-performing loans, including those of the Lopez Group, Lehman Brothers Asian Investment Ltd. in 2006. He said LBAIL was the highest bidder at the time.

 “In effect, DBP relinquished effective control over the transferred NPAs after it sold its NPAs without recourse for cash. DBP did not condone the subject NPLs and did not pursue further collection because there was no write-off involved in the NPLs of the Lopez Companies,” he also said. 

ABS-CBN went off the air in May last year and a House panel in July denied the network’s application for a new franchise. Lawmakers said the network had unpaid taxes and labor issues despite testimony from government agencies on those issues. House members also took issue with what they said was biased reporting by the network’s news unit.

The shutdown of ABS-CBN, which had earned Duterte’s ire for alleged bias and for failing to air his campaign ads for the 2010 elections, was described by its supporters, journalists’ groups and rights groups as an attack on press freedom. The loss of its regional stations also meant loss of access to news and information for remote areas of the country. 

Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto (Batangas) has filed a bill at the House to give ABS-CBN a new franchise while Senate President Vicente Sotto III has filed a separate bill at the Senate.

It is unclear how the bills will fare in Congress, which is dominated by Duterte allies. Since the franchise is a proposed law, the president can also veto it. — via Albert Rovic Tan

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