"The authorities must do their jobs."
Earlier this month, I wrote a letter to Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) requesting him to investigate an anomalous “blocktime deal” between ABS-CBN Corporation and Zoe Broadcasting, Inc.
The legislative franchise of ABS-CBN expired, and Congress refused to renew it. ABS-CBN continued operations the next day but the NTC issued a cease and desist order that effectively closed the operations of the network.
Thereafter, ABS-CBN went on a propaganda binge alleging that the non-renewal of its franchise violated press freedom. The network’s talents joined the frenzy against the government, President Rodrigo Duterte in particular, without understanding the constitutional issues involved.
ABS-CBN also asked the Supreme Court to restrain the NTC from enforcing its cease and desist order, but the high tribunal eventually ruled against the network. The Supreme Court said the expiration of the franchise of ABS-CBN has nothing to do with press freedom, and that under the Constitution, Congress has the unbridled discretion to renew or not to renew an expired franchise.
Zoe Broadcasting, Inc. operates free TV Channel 11. Its franchise is embodied in Republic Act No. 7297 (enacted in 1992), as amended by Republic Acts Nos. 7968 (in 1995) and 10888 (in 2016).
Zoe is controlled by the Jesus is Lord group, the religious empire of preacher Eddie Villanueva, who currently holds the post of Deputy Speaker in the House of Representatives of Congress. Incumbent Senator Joel Villanueva is his son.
The senior Villanueva made two unsuccessful runs for the presidency oblivious of the importance of the separation of Church and State.
Years ago, the Ombudsman declared junior Villanueva disqualified from holding public office. At that time, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III refused to unseat the junior Villanueva on the ground that only the Senate Electoral Tribunal may order the ouster of a sitting senator.
Be that as it may, junior Villanueva’s term in the Senate will expire in June 2022 and he will be ineligible to hold public office thereafter.
The Villanueva religious empire is the force behind the Cibac Party which in past elections has successfully fielded candidates under the party list system. As expected, the party list congressmen of Cibac are members of the Villanueva family, or are closely associated with the dynasty.
In October 2020, ABS-CBN announced that its programs are on the air once again on free television, through Zoe’s TV Channel 11. Pursuant to a “blocktime deal,” Zoe will broadcast the usual ABS-CBN programs from morning to evening. The deal also changed the channel’s name from Zoe to A2Z TV, with “A2” standing for ABS-CBN Channel 2 and “Z” representing Zoe.
Obviously, the A2Z TV deal allows ABS-CBN to circumvent the NTC cease-and-desist order by using the legislative franchise of Zoe. In effect, the A2Z TV deal lets ABS-CBN return to the airwaves without securing a legislative franchise. That arrangement violates Act No. 3846 which requires broadcast networks to first obtain a legislative franchise before going on the air.
Attention is invited to Section 11 of the legislative franchise of Zoe, which prohibits Zoe from leasing, transferring, lending or assigning its rights and privileges under its franchise to another person or entity, without the prior approval of Congress. The A2Z TV deal is covered by Section 11. To be valid, the deal requires the prior approval of Congress.
I checked with Congress and there is nothing there which indicates that the A2Z TV deal has the prior approval of Congress.
From all indications, the A2Z TV deal is a violation of Section 11 of the franchise of Zoe. That is enough reason for Congress to revoke the Zoe franchise.
The A2Z TV deal is similar to a previous arrangement ABS-CBN had with the Amcara Broadcasting Network. That deal with Amcara ended last year after the House learned that the blocktime programs of ABS-CBN in Amcara came from the ABS-CBN transmitter.
How the A2Z TV deal anomaly could possibly escape the attention of the NTC is puzzling because the NTC is obligated by law to monitor broadcast operations.
All that prompted me to complain to the NTC about the A2Z TV deal. I provided copies of my letter to House Majority Floor Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, House Legislative Franchises Committee Chairman Franz Alvarez, and Cavite Representative Jesus Crispin Remulla.
Since Zoe is supposed to be engaged in religious (non-commercial) programming, its legislative franchise exempts it from paying taxes. A tax problem arises because A2Z TV airs commercial advertising spots during the hours when programming is devoted to ABS-CBN shows.
Are the proper taxes being paid under the A2Z TV deal? Nobody seems to know for now. I will make inquiries with the Bureau of Internal Revenue regarding that matter.
In the meantime, the NTC should do its job and investigate the A27 TV deal.