Cayetano defends ABS-CBN shutdown, claims media giant played ‘fast and loose’ with law

<i>Photo: Alan Peter Cayetano / FB, ABS-CBN  Broadcast Center / Wikicommons</i>
Photo: Alan Peter Cayetano / FB, ABS-CBN Broadcast Center / Wikicommons

Is there anything less surprising?

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano today defended Congress’ decision to shut down the Philippines’ largest broadcaster, insisting that ABS-CBN’s shutdown had been a long time coming because it allegedly violated the law.

“It wasn’t the government who shut ABS-CBN down, rather it was their owners’ playing fast and loose with our laws in the past decades, that made the shutdown inevitable,” Cayetano said in a rambling, lengthy statement posted on his social media account. 

He added that his ally President Rodrigo Duterte should be lauded for depriving some unnamed people of “entitlements and privileges” whom he alleged wanted “to cast themselves the victims and the heroes of this epic.”

“Take for example the twin issues of the Anti Terror Law and the franchise application of ABS-CBN. If we look at it closely – while of a different nature – both instances have the same victims – [t]he [p]eople. And the actions of Congress relative to these matters have been aimed at addressing the same fundamental injustices,” said Cayetano.

Filipinos have criticized both the recently signed Anti-Terror Law and Congress’ decision to deny granting ABS-CBN a 25-year franchise, a decision that has left thousands of workers unemployed. The House of Representatives’ decision was not shocking, however, given that both Duterte and Cayetano have both publicly expressed their personal objections over renewing the media company’s broadcasting license.

Read: House rejects ABS-CBN’s bid for a fresh franchise

ABS-CBN officially went off the air on May 5, a day after its franchise expired. The only other time the embattled broadcaster was forced to shut down was in September 1972, when it was taken over by the government of then-President Ferdinand Marcos, whose cronies later took over its management.

Cayetano claimed that the media network’s owners, whom he called “oligarchs,” had protected their business by abusing the system. Ironically, Cayetano seemed to be forgetting that he’s part of a political dynasty himself, his sister Pia is a sitting senator, as was his late father Rene. His wife Lani is a Taguig congresswoman.

He said the Lopezes, ABS-CBN’s owners, have “deprive[d] the country of billions in much-needed funds by skirting and bending the law. Many times in connivance with the political elite”.

Cayetano also accused the media giant of tax evasion and said that its rival network had paid more in the past years.

“The fact that GMA paid Php 3.13 Billion in taxes from 2017 to 2019, as compared to ABSCBN’s Php 563 million for the same period, makes it crystal clear that something has gone terribly wrong with the system. This despite ABSCBN being a bigger company that usually has bigger annual income than GMA,” the Taguig City congressman said.

The lawmaker’s accusation comes even after the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Security Exchange Commission has said that ABS-CBN has regularly paid taxes, and does not have any pending tax violations.

Read: Nothing to fear? Duterte defends anti-terror law, calls Maria Ressa a ‘fraud’

Despite the shutdown of the company, Cayetano rejected the assertions of several critics that the non-renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise is tantamount to the death of press freedom in the country.

“Congress is not stifling the right of any journalist, host, commentator, talent, or employee of ABSCBN – or any Filipino for that matter – from criticizing the government,” Cayetano said.

“Ultimately, people will come to understand that this was never an issue about press freedom. That despite the best efforts of the owner’s (sic)  to use it as a shield for their abusive corporate practices, Filipinos will see that this is – first and foremost – simply part of this season’s uprooting of the weeds and a reclaiming our patrimony from the oligarchs,” he added.

Congress alleged during the franchise hearings that ABS-CBN violated the country’s labor laws, the Constitution’s ban on foreign media ownership, and accused owner Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez of being a fake Filipino because of his dual citizenship. ABS-CBN continues to deny these allegations.

Over the weekend, a lawyer named Dino de Leon drafted a proposal to grant ABS-CBN a franchise through a people’s initiative, saying that “our current Constitution and laws allow us, the Sovereign People, to pass a law directly and to grant ABS-CBN its franchise,” pursuant to Republic Act. No. 6735 or the Initiative and Referendum Act.

To exercise the power of initiative, Republic Act 6735 says that at at least 10% of the total number of registered voters, and at least 3% of voters in every legislative district should sign a petition and register it with the Commission of Elections.

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