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Solons nix deeper ABS-CBN probe

Lawmakers have thumbed down proposals to conduct further congressional investigations against radio-broadcast network ABS-CBN after a congressiona committee rejected the network’s franchise renewal application earlier this month.

Instead, Reps. Lito Atienza of Buhay, Edcel Lagman of Albay and Joy Tambunting of Parañaque City, proposed that a thorough review and discussion in plenary session  be pursued to allow the 302-member chamber to participate and decide on the matter.

“We have to discuss this first in the plenary. I don’t agree with the decision of the committee. It should be the plenary that must decide and not just a technical working group approved by 70 members,” Atienza said in the weekly virtual Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum.

Atienza’s statement came in response to various resolutions filed by Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta, Cavite Rep. Boying Remulla and Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor pushing for separate investigations on the network’s alleged fake land title, its allege use of AMCARA as dummy and alleged P1.6-billion loan condonation with Development Bank of the Philippines.

Atienza also warned his fellow legislators who allegedly “abused their power” that they would be held liable for their action against the network giant.

“There are congressmen who should be held liable too. We should not allow abuse of authority here in Congress because the power is with the people. We can penalize them for abuse of power,” Atienza said. But he refused to name names.

“In time, I would be able to tell them - you abused your authority,” said Atienza.

Lagman, for his part, said Congress is not the proper venue to resolve the matters raised in the resolutions filed by several lawmakers—who voted to reject the franchise application—seeking inquiries against the network.

“Let the proper court adjudicate the alleged violations of ABS-CBN and impose the corresponding penalties if warranted. The resolution of these purported infractions cannot be left to legislators who have obviously prejudged the issues,” Lagman said in a text message.

“Congressional investigations in aid of persecution should never be allowed. Legislative inquisitions are anathema to responsible lawmaking,” he added.

Tambunting said that proposals to further investigate the alleged “sins” committed by the ABS-CBN should no longer be pursued by the House.

“All these issues have already been tackled during the hearing. These are just repetition of the issues,” she said.

The three resolutions filed to investigate issues surrounding the broadcast giant hurdled first reading approval Tuesday.

House Resolution 1058, filed by Marcoleta filed on July 22, seeks inquiry on the authenticity of the land title of ABS-CBN Corporation, citing supposed irregularities in the copies of the network’s property documents.

House Resolution 1040 - filed by Marcoleta, Defensor, Remulla, Dumper PTDA Partylist Rep. Claudine Bautista, ACT-CIS Partylist Rep. Eric Yap, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, and Presidential son Paolo Duterte of Davao City - directed the Committee on Good Governance and Public Accountability to investigate an alleged loan condonation or write-off by the Development Bank of the Philippines in favor of companies affiliated with the Lopez family.

They claimed that Lopez Holding Corp., which was given rights over ABS-CBN Corp. shares, benefited from a large write-off from the DBP, along with other companies controlled by the Lopezes.

The allegedly condoned loans may exceed ₱1.6 billion, an amount congressmen claimed could have been used by the government for its COVID-19 response.

Remulla’s HR 1015 directs the legislative franchises committee to inquire on the probable violations of Amcara Broadcasting Network.

As this developed, Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte has welcomed the offer by ABS-CBN of its transmission network for airing educational programs as part of the government’s blended learning format this coming schoolyear.

Villafuerte said that ABS-CBN’s offer should be examined by the new inter-agency group formed by President Duterte to craft an integrated program on harnessing broadcast frequencies available to the state for the planned distance learning modalities.

“The new inter-agency panel announced by President Duterte in his 5th SONA (State of the Nation Address) should explore ABS-CBN’s offer, given that the network’s extensive nationwide reach on the back of its television and radio facilities across the country would give a big boost to the Chief Executive’s push for e-learning or distance education in lieu of face-to-face classroom teaching until such time that a vaccine or cure for Covid-19 has been developed and is available to the public,” he said.

Villafuerte was referring to President Duterte’s directive in his SONA on Monday for Secretaries Menardo Guevarra (of justice), Fortunato dela Peña (science & technology), Gregorio Honasan II (information and communications technology), Leonor Briones (education), Wendell Avisado (budget and management and Carlos Dominguez III (finance) “to come up with an integrated program and implementation mechanism to ensure that these TV frequencies are fully utilized by government through the facilities of PTV4 for the utmost benefit of the Filipino people.”

In response, ABS-CBN issued a statement “offering its transmission network to help government air educational programs in the coming school year, which will see a shift from traditional classroom education to distance learning.” “We are offering the use of our transmission network to broadcast educational programs all over the country. We hope to help the government continuously educate students nationwide despite the limitations brought about by the pandemic,” ABS-CBN said in the statement.

The broadcast network said it was also offering to the government the use of all the educational programs it produced over the past 20 years, particularly the ready-to-air educational lessons it had produced and aired on its Knowledge Channel in consultation with the Department of Education (DepEd).

Villafuerte earlier filed House Resolution 1044 for the temporary use by the government of ABS-CBN’s former television and radio frequencies to expand alternative distance learning modes for students, and thus to help mitigate the pernicious impact of COVID-19.

He explained that his resolution has no intention to sequester the network’s TV and radio facilities of state educators.

Villafuerte said it would depend on the Lopez family, which owns the broadcast network, whether to agree to such a proposed partnership, and stressed there was no intention at all in HR 1044 for the state to sequester the network’s TV and radio facilities for the planned distance learning modalities of state educators.

“In keeping with the network’s slogan—‘In the service of the Filipino’—ABS-CBN could engage the Duterte administration in an exceptional partnership by letting the government temporarily use its facilities, for a reasonable fee of course, for the distance learning component of what DepEd Secretary Briones has called the ‘blended’ learning system this coming schoolyear,” Villafuerte said.

Topics: Rep. Lito Atienza , Rep. Edcel Lagman , Rep. Joy Tambunting , ABS-CBN probe
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