In a Senate hearing today, broadcasting giant ABS-CBN contested the main impetus for the Duterte administration’s all-out campaign against it, maintaining that it had aired the vast majority of the president’s campaign ads back in 2016, while acknowledging that they had failed to air a relatively small fraction of his local ads.
Duterte has threatened on multiple occasions to see to it that ABS-CBN loses its operating license for allegedly failing to air his campaign ads when he was a candidate, despite receiving payment to do so. However, CEO Carlo Katigbak insisted before the Senate today that Duterte was mistaken, The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports.
“The president placed an order for PHP117 million (US$2.296 million) worth of national ads, of which we aired all PHP117 million. In other words, 100 percent of the president’s ads — which were ordered for a national airing — were accommodated and broadcast and aired by the station,” Katigbak said.
“It’s the local ads which we had problems with, because we only have two minutes of airtime per hour. In the case of the local ads, the president placed an order of PHP65 million (US$1.275 million) worth of spots, in which we failed to air PHP7 million (US$137,316) worth,” he explained in English and Filipino.
He said the local ads weren’t aired because other candidates had already placed their own ads. Aside from broadcasting in Filipino all over the Philippines, ABS-CBN owns local channels in key cities like Cebu and Davao, where they also offer programming delivered in the local language, such as Visayan.
“[T]here had been many previous telecast orders that were already ahead, that came in ahead of the president’s telecast order,” he said. “So, that being said, [of] the PHP7 million that we weren’t able to air, we were able to refund approximately PHP4 million (US$78,476) to the President, and that was accepted.”
Katigbak admitted that there had been a delay in refunding the remaining amount, but said that when it was finally sent to Duterte, the president refused to accept it.
Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, Duterte’s former special assistant and one of the president’s closest allies, confronted Katigbak in the hearing, demanding to know why former Senator Antonio Trillanes’ ads, which attacked the president, were aired. Katigbak simply said the network was “required not to discriminate against any candidate.”
“In other words, any candidate that comes to our station with an ad that is legal and legitimate must be accommodated,” he said. “We’re sorry if we offended the president; that is not the intention of the network. We felt that we were just abiding by the law and regulations surrounding the airing of political ads.”
But presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo (predictably) spun Katigbak’s defense of the network as a victory for the administration, saying the CEO should have apologized years ago.
“I’m glad ABS-CBN has finally admitted its shortcomings to the president. They should have done that a long time ago,” Panelo said.
Today’s Senate hearing was organized over the objections of House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, a Duterte loyalist who claimed it was a violation of the Constitution because the House of Representatives was supposed to be the first body to discuss the franchise renewal.
The House has been sitting on multiple bills seeking to extend ABS-CBN’s franchise, which Cayetano has put off, saying the body has more important matters to discuss. However, he has also admitted that he is personally against renewing ABS-CBN’s license because he believes it favored certain candidates over others in the 2010 and 2016 elections.