(UPDATED) Rep. Gil Acosta Jr. spoke with Palawan News on Saturday to explain his vote to reject the granting of a 25-year franchise by Congress to network giant ABS-CBN.
Overall, he said that he considered the issues raised against the network on their merits and at the end concluded that the network committed violations on its franchise.
Acosta was one of 70 congressmen who affirmed the recommendation of a 3-man Technical Working Group (TWG) to reject the company’s franchise application.
“Kung ako lang I would have voted to renew their franchise pero hindi po natin puwedeng pairalin ang personal na kagustuhan natin dahil may mga violations talaga,” Acosta said.
Acosta expounded his views on some of the key issues discussed during the franchise hearings.
On the citizenship issue of Eugenio Lopez III
Acosta said his initial view was that the head of ABS-CBN being a dual citizen (Filipino and American) is allowed under the law to have ownership of a media entity. He added, however, that he realized during the deliberations that there is a “conflict” in the case of Lopez also being an American.
“During the earlier hearings, I had the impression that this was not actually an issue dahil sa batas ay pinapagayan ang dual citizen. Pero during the trials saka ko lang na-realize na baka nga mayroong conflict,” he added.
“There is an intent (in the Constitution) to completely detach mass media from foreigners although dual citizen is allowed versus dual allegiance. But hindi nito naalis ang fact na mayroong question at pagkalito,” Acosta said.
On ABS-CBN’s issuance and sale of Philippine Deposit Receipts (PDR) to foreigners, Acosta said this was a case against the network. He concluded that the practice made it possible for foreigners to gain control of ABS-CBN.
He noted that while SEC ruled the network’s PDRs as legal, the matter is not yet resolved in the courts.
“Remember may nakabinbin ngayon sa CA na wala pang definitive interpretation ang SC tungkol sa provision dito,” he said.
“Patungkol dito, it seems to show na baka magkaroon ng foreign influence,” Acosta said.
On the transfer of assets to ABS-CBN
Acosta observed that the transfer of ABS-CBN to the Lopezes following the EDSA revolution did not go through legal or valid processes, specifically that the return of the property to the Lopez family did not go through the Asset Privatization Trust (APT).
“Allegedly isa ang ABS-CBN sa natatanging corporation na hindi dumaan doon sa proseso ng asset privatization trust,” Acosta said.
“But this is not a big issue for me,” he added.
Use of dummy company
On TWG’s findings of ABS-CBN having used a dummy corporation, Rep. Acosta said that ABS-CBN used ABS-CBN Convergence to air its programs.
“Kasi kapag nag-dummy corporation ka, tinago mo yong corporation sa isang corporation. Ito hindi, kung baga si ABS-CBN Convergence, siya yong nag-ere noong mga programs. Hindi naman siya ang franchise holder, ang franchise holder yong ABS-CBN Corp. Yong violation niya, nag-ere siya without the franchise,” he said.
Acosta observed that ABS-CBN violated labor laws on the regularization of employees.
“Kung hindi ako nagkakamali ay 2,000 out of 11,000 employees lang ang regular,” Acosta said.
On the allegation that ABS-CBN had not been paying correct taxes to the government, Acosta noted that what the company was doing was “tax avoidance”, but added this was not “ethical”.
“As a lawyer, it is tax avoidance vs. tax evasion. Although in the Philippines, tax avoidance per se is legal. But again, sinasabi natin na ang franchise ay privilege pa rin. Tinitingnan natin na legal ang tax avoidance but is it ethical na makakatulong ba?” he said.
He also claimed there were “discrepancies” in the tax payments of the network.
“Dito rin kasi ay may nakita na mga discrepancies sa mga taxes that were filed by the network,” he said.
Not the end
Acosta concluded his explanation saying that their decision is not an end to the network, stating that they can still file a motion for reconsideration at the committee level or file a new House bill through any congressman.
He insisted that the House vote against the franchise was not politically motivated.
“Mali lang siguro ang naging timing kasi pandemic at libo-libo ang empleyado nila. Lagi kong sinasabi na hindi pa naman nila katapusan. There are remedies na puwede nilang gawin basta maayos nila ang mga issues at naging problema na naging basehan ng committee para i-deny ang franchise nila,” Acosta said.
“Ang franchise ay hindi demandable right it is mere privilege at dapat itong tingnan ng kongreso kung dapat ibigay,” he said.