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MANILA, Philippines – Two party-list congressmen – Joseph Stephen Paduano of Abang Lingkod and Ron Salo of Kabayan – withdrew their authorship of the bills granting ABS-CBN a franchise as the lower chamber wrapped up its joint hearings on the embattled media network on Thursday, July 9.
During the 13th hearing of the House committee on legislative franchises as well as committee on good government and public accountability, Paduano said the network’s alleged tax violations were the last straw for him.
“Though it is hard for me, I came to the conclusion that I am withdrawing my co-authorship of House Bill (HB) 3713 that aims to grant the renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN,” Paduano said in his manifestation at the start of the 4-hour hearing that saw the closing arguments of the pro- and anti-ABS-CBN sides.
He then apologized to Parañaque City 2nd District Representative Joy Myra Tambunting, the principal author of HB No. 3713, of which Paduano initially agreed to be co-author. The bill would have renewed ABS-CBN’s now-expired franchise.
“Mr Chairman, before I end, I wish to ask for apology and understanding of my colleague Representative Joy Tambunting, the principal author of the said House bill, and to ABS-CBN president Carlo Katigbak and to the ABS-CBN family,” said Paduano.
In explaining his withdrawal, Paduano zeroed in on ABS-CBN subsidiary Big Dipper Digital Content and Design Incorporated, an IT-enabled company that provides media asset management services like converting analog video materials to digital format.
Big Dipper is registered with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) and is therefore qualified for tax incentives.
But House Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta claimed in previous hearings that the network used Big Dipper as a tax shield – an accusation that the network’s executives and lawyers already denied.
“Big Dipper is perceived as a tax shield for the media giant. Legally, Mr Speaker, there’s nothing wrong with Big Dipper as a PEZA-registered company. But ABS-CBN has been funneling some of its income to Big Dipper, which gives some moral points that it is doing [this] to avoid paying taxes,” Paduano said.
Two days earlier on Monday, July 6, Salo announced before the joint panels that he was withdrawing his primary authorship of HB No. 6901. Salo had filed the bill to grant a fresh franchise to ABS-CBN after its old one lapsed on May 4.
“My party-list group deems that ABS-CBN failed to successfully rebut the long list of alleged violations, and thus, this representation cannot anymore support the grant of a new franchise,” said the Kabayan congressman.
The authorship withdrawals come at a crucial time for ABS-CBN, as the members of the House legislative franchises committee could vote on the network’s fate on Friday, July 10, though no final date for the voting has been announced as of posting time. (READ: Scenarios: What happens to ABS-CBN franchise after House panel vote?)
In the past month, legislators had grilled ABS-CBN’s executives and lawyers over the network’s supposed violations of the terms of its franchise. These included allegations of foreign ownership, possible violations of labor laws, and accusations of biased reporting.
ABS-CBN had denied all the allegations and maintained that its operations in the past two decades were aboveboard.
The House panels, however, are now asking the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the network’s supposed “deception” during the hearings. – Rappler.com