House leadership Speaker Lord Allan Velasco last week announced that they will not tackle media giant ABS-CBN’s renewed franchise application to broadcast under the current administration.
“Calls to revive the franchise of ABS-CBN will have to wait until the next Congress,” he said in a statement, adding that the body is still prioritizing the country’s economic recovery and measures to help Filipinos affected by the recession to get back on their feet. The speaker of the House also mentioned legislative agenda of the President that Congress must pass soon.
The statement came shortly after President Rodrigo Duterte said that he would not let the network get a franchise until its owners, the Lopez family, settle their alleged tax obligations.
Also last week, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque asserted that ABS-CBN had in the past turned over its assets to a special purpose vehicle (a legal entity that isolates a parent company from financial risk, such as bankruptcy) just to avoid settling its debts.
“If you are going bankrupt, it would be acceptable if you give your asset to an SPV because you cannot pay off your debts,” he said. “But ABS-CBN was not facing bankruptcy at that time.”
He singled out Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) as one of the network’s creditors. “It just gave its assets to the SPV because it does not want to settle its debts and one of its creditors is the state-run DBP. That’s the story that reached the President.”
The DBP has denied in writing Roque’s claims.
The president’s spokesman said that the Ombudsman had been tasked by the Duterte to investigate on the networks’ alleged unpaid taxes. The Bureau of Internal Revenue, however, said that ABS-CBN had been paying regularly and has no outstanding balance.
In May of last year, the network was made to go off the air after its existing franchise expired. Later in July, 70 members of Congress voted against granting ABS-CBN a new franchise, which forced 11,000 workers to face unemployment.
The network shutdown drew flak from all sectors and was called an attack on press freedom.