Lawmaker wants to reopen probe on ABS-CBN's alleged violations

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 18) — Cavite 4th District Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. is seeking to reopen the congressional investigation into the alleged law violations by media giant ABS-CBN Corp. following its new content deals with international channels.

In a statement on Tuesday, Barzaga said he wanted to check if the media company had corrected its legal infringements and other violations that led to the denial of its legislative franchise by the previous Congress.

"These legal and constitutional issues include possible violations committed by ABS-CBN on the constitutional limits on foreign ownership, its reported violations of labor and tax laws, and other violations of its previous franchise," Barzaga said.

"We have to find out if ABS-CBN has been following the law or continuing to violate or circumvent it," the vice chairperson of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises added.

Barzaga also reasoned that the investigation must be reopened to know if there are more deals that the company has entered into which need to be reviewed.

He also claimed that the reinvestigation "could even benefit the company," echoing President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.'s sentiment that ABS-CBN would be able to secure a new franchise if all issues against it are resolved.

ABS-CBN has signed new deals with international cable channels Discovery Asia and Asian Food Network to bring some of its lifestyle programs to Central and Southeast Asia.

Last Aug. 31, ABS-CBN also ended its supposed investment deal with TV5. Before this, three House resolutions were seeking to probe the two companies.

RELATED: Terminated ABS-CBN, TV5 deal creates 'chilling effect' on press freedom, businesses — lawmaker

Barzaga is one of 70 legislators who voted to deny the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN in 2020.

Issues raised by the technical working group of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises included the dual citizenship of its chairman emeritus Eugenio "Gabby" Lopez III, alleged tax-avoidance schemes, failure to regularize its employees, and biased reporting, among other things.

READ: How lawmakers voted on ABS-CBN's failed bid for new franchise

Condemnation

Progressives, in response, condemned the supposed plan of Barzaga as it allegedly shows the abuse of power of Congress.

"Kung totoo ito ay parang naaabuso ang kapangyarihan ng Kongreso na kung ang media ay di alyado ng administrasyon ay hinaharass ito at iniipit," said House Deputy Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro.

[Translation: If this plan is true then it looks like the power of Congress is being abused when media companies are harassed because they are apparently not supporters of the administration.]

"Tinanggalan na nga ng prangkisa maski walang napatunayang mga paglabag ay patuloy pa ding tinutugis ang ABS-CBN dahil sa kanilang paglalahad ng katotohanan," she added.

[Translation: They have taken away the franchise even if the alleged violations were not proven and yet they are still hounding ABS-CBN for reporting the truth.]

Meanwhile, Bayan Muna chairperson Neri Colmenares said this move resurfaced after Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla complained of the network's persistence in covering the arrest of his son Juanito.

Juanito Jose Diaz Remulla III, 38, is facing drug charges after he was allegedly caught receiving a parcel that contained P1.25 million worth of marijuana.

Castro and Colmenares both said Congress should instead investigate Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI), owned by televangelist Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, as it has violated the code of ethics of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, as well as the terms and conditions of its franchise for spreading fake news and red-tagging.

"Dito natin ma-testing kung ang mga congressman ay masigasig din mag-imbestiga sa mga alyado ni dating Pres. (Rodrigo) Duterte sa media tulad ng SMNI o ABS-CBN lang ang target nila," Colmenares said.

[Translation: Here we can test if congressmen are eager to investigate media allies of former President Rodrigo Duterte like SMNI or if they are only targeting ABS-CBN.]