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TIMELINE: Duterte against ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal

Michelle Abad

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TIMELINE: Duterte against ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal
(11th UPDATE) Leading TV network ABS-CBN has met repeated insults and threats from the President over its franchise renewal

MANILA, Philippines (11th UPDATE) – The franchise of leading TV network ABS-CBN expired on May 4, even as it depended on at least 9 bills filed with Congress seeking renewal.

When a congressional franchise expires, a media network would have to cease television and radio broadcast operations. However, it may still be able to operate by distributing its content onto other media platforms, such as online and through the company’s publishing and movie production arms. (READ: Duterte’s ace against ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ biggest network)

Here’s what you need to know about the company’s years-long tussle with the government under President Rodrigo Duterte:

March 30, 1995

ABS-CBN’s franchise is approved through Republic Act No. 7966. (FAST FACTS: What you should know about ABS-CBN)

September 11, 2014

Isabela Representative Giorgidi Aggabao files House Bill 4997, the first franchise renewal bill for ABS-CBN, with the 16th Congress. The bill lapses at the committee level.

May 5, 2016

During the 2016 elections campaign period, ABS-CBN airs an advertisement showing clips of Duterte cursing, uttering a controversial rape remark, and saying he is ready to kill. Senator Antonio Trillanes IV paid for this ad.

ABS-CBN later says that it was “duty-bound to air a legitimate ad.”

June 11, 2016

ABS-CBN says they applied for early renewal in 2014 through the normal legislative process. However, due to time constraints, ABS-CBN withdraws, opting to seek renewal in the 17th Congress.

“Claims that the franchise will not be extended are purely speculative,” ABS-CBN says in a statement.

November 10, 2016

Nueva Ecija Representative Micaela Violago files House Bill (HB) 4349 in the 17th Congress. The bill seeks to renew the franchise for another 25 years.

March 30, 2017

Duterte calls ABS-CBN and newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer bastos (rude)” for allegedly reporting unfair news about him and writing in favor of the interests of the owners. He says that one day, “karma will come” to them.

He says the Inquirer is “bullshit” and that ABS-CBN “published trash.” Duterte calls the Prietos and Lopezes, the respective owners of the companies, “oligarchs and elites.”

In response, the Inquirer says it has “upheld the highest standards of excellence in journalism” since its founding in 1985.

March 31, 2017

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) calls out Duterte for lashing out against the media, saying it was a “brazen abuse of your immense power as chief executive of this land and only shows how little, if any, appreciation you have of democracy and governance.”

April 6, 2017

ABS-CBN Chairman Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III says that the administration’s anger triggered by the reports is “part and parcel” of the work of a media institution. ABS-CBN maintains that the company has observed “fair and balanced” reporting.

April 27, 2017

Duterte accuses ABS-CBN of “swindling,” claiming that the network did not show his political ads during the 2016 campaign although they were already paid for.

These comments come just a few days after Duterte renewed the franchise of GMA Network, ABS-CBN’s rival, for another 25 years.

Meanwhile, HB 4349 remains at the committee level. Duterte tells Congress, “No need to renew it.” 

May 19, 2017

Duterte says he will file charges of “multiple syndicated estafa” against ABS-CBN, in a speech at an event launch of housing designs for the military and police.

Kawalang hiya ninyo, kapal ng mukha ninyo, putang-ina ninyo, leche kayo (You have no shame, your faces are too thick, you sons of bitches),” he says, addressing ABS-CBN chairman Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III.

“Gabby Lopez, I paid ABS-CBN P2.8 million….You accepted my money, you never bothered to show my propaganda (political advertisements). After the elections, you didn’t return the money,” he adds.

He says other candidates such as his running mate Alan Peter Cayetano and vice presidential candidate Francis Escudero experienced the same.

August 3, 2018

The President repeats his threat to block ABS-CBN’s franchise in a speech at the inauguration of a drug rehabilitation facility in Bukidnon.

He challenges ABS-CBN executives to let him slap them if records show he has less than P40 million in his bank accounts. 

June 12, 2019

The Philippine Star reports that the House of Representatives froze HB 4349. A lawmaker, who requested anonymity, says no action on any bill seeking to renew the ABS-CBN franchise would be taken as long as the network still has issues with the President.

ABS-CBN later says it is unable to comment on or clarify this report. 

July 1, 2019

HB 4349 lapses after 17th Congress adjourns, but its same sponsor Representative Micaela Violago refiles the first bill in the 18th Congress to extend ABS-CBN’s franchise.

October 29, 2019

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano announces they are set to deliberate on the franchise renewal. At this point, there are at least 5 bills filed that seek to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise.

December 3, 2019

In a speech before new Malacañang officials, Duterte says he is still angry with ABS-CBN, telling the network, “If you expect that (the franchise) will be renewed, I’m sorry. I will see to it that you’re out.”

This is the third time Duterte reiterates this threat.

December 4, 2019

Cayetano says they will no longer tackle the franchise renewal bills for the remainder of 2019, saying there will be “more than enough time” for deliberations in 2020.

Although Cayetano said earlier he has a “personal complaint” against ABS-CBN for “unjust meddling” in the 2016 elections, he gave assurances there will be “fair” deliberation in the House.

House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr says the majority congressmen “might perhaps toe the line” with Duterte, which would make it “almost next to impossible” to renew the franchise. 

December 30, 2019

Duterte tells ABS-CBN it would be better to “just sell” the network, remarking that Congress renewing the franchise is unlikely. 

January 2, 2020

House Committee on Legislative Franchises Chair Franz Alvarez promises his committee would deliberate on the franchise renewal bills. 

He tells ABS-CBN that securing a franchise from Congress is “not a right, but a privilege.”

February 10, 2020

Solicitor General Jose Calida files a quo warranto petition with the Supreme Court against ABS-CBN. In the “Very Urgent Omnibus Motion,” Calida asks the High Court to void the franchises of the network giant and ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc “as they are unlawfully exercising their legislative franchises.”

February 18, 2020

Calida files a very urgent motion to gag ABS-CBN, which will restrain it and others from making public statements that discuss the merits of the case. The network has 5 days to submit its comment on the motion.

February 24, 2020

The Senate holds a hearing on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal to inquire on the company’s compliance with its franchise terms. Senators maintain that the hearing ahead of the House inquiry does not encroach on the power of the lower chamber. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) says that since RA 7966 only became effective 15 days after its publication on April 19, 1995, the actual expiration date of the franchise is on May 4 and not March 30. 

Duterte’s former aide Senator Bong Go says that the President was “hurt” as ABS-CBN chose to air “black propaganda” instead of “legitimate” ads paid for by the Duterte campaign. “Kung masama ka sa Pangulo, mas maging masama siya sa ‘yo (If you are mean to the President, he will be meaner to you),” he says. 

ABS-CBN CEO Carlo Katigbak apologizes to Duterte. He clarifies the swindling allegations, saying that the network was able to air all of Duterte’s national ads that amounted to P117 million. Katigbak says they were not able to air all of his local ads, as local ads have shorter airtime allocation. They had refunded P4 million of the already-paid-for ads, but the remaining P2.6 million was delayed.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) all clear ABS-CBN of any penalties with taxes, labor practices, and its Kapamilya Box Office pay-per-view service.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) does not give comment on whether there are violations in ABS-CBN’s Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs).

Katigbak insists that the network complied with election laws when they aired Trillanes’ anti-Duterte ad. Trillanes thinks his ad is not the reason behind the President’s beef with the network, since GMA Network aired the same ad “yet Duterte never complained about it.”

ABS-CBN urges the Supreme Court to reject Calida’s request for a gag order.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra tells the Senate that Congress may authorize the NTC to give ABS-CBN the provisional permit to continue operating after the lapse of its franchise. Guevarra later says he will not give a legal opinion.

Cayetano tells reporters that a notice from the House committee on legislative franchises should be “more than sufficient” to allow the network to keep broadcasting. He says the House is in talks with the NTC to grant ABS-CBN provisional authority.

Cayetano says that if the House wanted to shut ABS-CBN down, they would have held one hearing and denied the franchise renewal. They also could have directly ordered NTC to pull the plug, he says.

February 26, 2020

Duterte tells reporters he accepts ABS-CBN’s February 24 apology, but that the fate of the franchise would still lie with Congress, particularly the House of Representatives. He says he will “not interfere.”

March 4, 2020

The Senate passes a resolution expressing its sense that ABS-CBN, including its subsidiaries, should continue operations as it waits for its franchise renewal.

March 10, 2020

The House holds its first hearing on the bills seeking to renew the franchise. The NTC says it would “most likely” issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN which would allow the network to continue operating pending its renewal.

Cayetano rejects the proposal of the House adopting a counterpart resolution to the Senate’s. He says the NTC issuance of a provisional authority is enough to let ABS-CBN stay on air.

March 11, 2020

The NTC says it will allow ABS-CBN to operate after May 4 until the end of the 18th Congress unless there is “restraint” from the courts.

May 1, 2020

Cayetano says the House has “no intention” to order the network’s closure or “take advantage” of the coronavirus pandemic to shut it down.

May 3, 2020

A day before the franchise expires, Calida warns the NTC against granting provisional authority to ABS-CBN, which would allow it to operate while its franchise renewal is pending in Congress. Calida insists that only Congress can grant franchises to public utilities, including broadcasting companies.

May 4, 2020

ABS-CBN’s franchise expires. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque says Malacañang will defer to whatever decision the NTC will make on whether ABS-CBN may still be able to operate.

Guevarra counters Calida, saying the DOJ stands by its position that “there is sufficient equitable basis to allow broadcast entities to continue operating while the bills for the renewal of their franchise remain pending with Congress.”

May 5, 2020

The NTC issues a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN. It is ordered to halt its television and radio operations. ABS-CBN has 10 days from the receipt of the order to respond why the frequencies assigned to it should not be recalled.

The DOJ says the order is “immediately executory.” When asked if this means ABS-CBN must stop broadcasting now, Guevarra says, “I cannot answer for ABS-CBN… It’s up to ABS-CBN if it will comply. The NTC will have to enforce it if ABS-CBN does not voluntarily comply.”

In a tweet, the ABS-CBN News Channel or ANC, the network’s cable news channel, says: “ANC will remain on air as NTC’s order does not cover cable news channel.”

A little over 3 hours after the cease and desist order was made known to the public, the network signs off after airing its primetime newscast TV Patrol.

“We trust that the government will decide on our franchise with the best interest of the Filipino people in mind, recognizing ABS-CBN’s role and efforts in providing the latest news and information during these challenging times,” ABS-CBN says in a statement.

May 6, 2020

Calida blames Congress for the non-renewal of the franchise. Lawmakers point their fingers at Cayetano.

Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez files a bill seeking a new franchise for ABS-CBN. House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr wants the NTC abolished after the shutdown order.

Roque claims President Duterte is “completely neutral” on the franchise renewal, and that Congress may vote as they please.

May 7, 2020

ABS-CBN goes to the Supreme Court to file for an injunction and a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). These would halt the implementation of the shutdown order, and would theoretically allow ABS-CBN to go back on air.

The main petition for certiorari and prohibition wants to void the shutdown order entirely. ABS-CBN calls the order a violation of press freedom. Meanwhile, senators urge the NTC to reconsider the order.

In the evening, TV Patrol airs for the first time since the shutdown – broadcasted through ANC and its online channels.

Malacañang says Duterte is “not inclined” to veto ABS-CBN’s franchise bill when it reaches his office.

May 11, 2020

The House committee on legislative franchises issues a show cause order against the NTC, directing it to explain why it should not be held in contempt for the ABS-CBN shutdown.

The Senate passes a resolution expressing its sense that the NTC should reconsider the cease and desist order.

May 13, 2020

The House passes a bill on 2nd reading to grant ABS-CBN a provisional franchise that would last until October 31. This temporary franchise would allow Congress more time to deliberate on the network’s alleged violations.

May 14, 2020

The NTC defends its shutdown order, saying they would have encroached on Congress’ powers if they had given ABS-CBN a provisional authority to operate.

May 18, 2020

The 2nd reading approval of the temporary franchise bill is recalled by the House, as more legislators wish to discuss the provisions further. The Cayetano-penned bill bears a provision that requires the network to give 10% of its total ad airtime to government announcements free of charge.

ABS-CBN files an urgent reiterative motion before the Supreme Court pleading to void the shutdown order.

May 19, 2020

ABS-CBN still has no TRO on the shutdown order for now, as the SC en banc votes to ask the NTC to comment on the network’s petition against the order. This means ABS-CBN will still be off-air indefinitely.

The House drops the bill granting ABS-CBN an provisional franchise. Cayetano says they will resume hearings on the bills granting the network a new 25-year franchise.

Katigbak tells the Senate they may have to start laying off employees by August if the network is not allowed to operate by then.

June 23, 2020

The Supreme Court en banc dismisses Calida’s quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN Corporation for being moot.

June 29-30, 2020

Calida advises the NTC to close ABS-CBN TV Plus and Channel 43, since their operations were dependent on the franchise. The next day, NTC shuts down ABS-CBN’s Sky Direct and TV Plus channels.

Congressional hearings on alleged violations of the network in its now-expired franchise continue.

July 2020

Congress hurls accusation after accusation at the network – some of which include the network using its subsidiaries as means to avoid paying taxes, and using Amcara Broadcasting Network as a “dummy.” ABS-CBN denies the tax evasion claim, as well as any anomalies in the arrangement with Amcara.

Two House committees are set to ask the National Bureau of Investigation to look into ABS-CBN’s alleged “deception” of lawmakers in the hearings on its franchise application.

Lawmakers allege the network is guilty of irresponsible journalism and unfair coverage. ABS-CBN reveals that the network failed to air political ads of several candidates in the 2016 elections, and not just Duterte’s.

On July 10, the House committee on legislative franchises adopts a resolution to reject the bills seeking to grant ABS-CBN a new franchise. The company has 24 hours to appeal the decision.

Rappler releases a statement on ABS-CBN. (READ: ABS-CBN’s battle is also ours– Rappler.com

Editor’s Note: The most recent version of this story clarifies that the non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise primarily affects its television and radio operations only.

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.