MANILA, Phillippines (3rd UPDATE) – President Rodrigo Duterte is "not vindictive," his former aide, Senator Bong Go, told a Senate hearing on the ABS-CBN franchise on Monday, February 24, but he recited a litany of hurts caused by the political ads that the media giant aired – and did not air – during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Go showed a 2016 ad paid for by then-senator Antonio Trillanes IV that aired on ABS-CBN about Duterte cursing and uttering his controversial rape remark. Go said the media company chose to air that "black propaganda" yet did not show the "legitimate ones" already paid for by the Duterte campaign.
These are the reasons the President, who wants the franchise of the network scrapped, is upset, the former aide said.
Why the Senate? A Senate hearing called by Senator Grace Poe put on the lawmakers' agenda the various issues related to the ABS-CBN controversy that has sparked protests by journalists, press freedom advocates, as well as its biggest entertainment stars.
Scheduled to end on May 4, the franchise faces threats of non-renewal given the House of Representatives' refusal to tackle bills related to it and a Supreme Court petition by the Philippine government seeking to nullify it.
Senators took turns in defending their mandate to hold the hearing amid House Speaker Allan Cayetano's claim that they were encroaching on the lower chamber's powers.
Some of Duterte's allies in the Senate – such as Manny Pacquiao, Sonny Angara, and Ronald dela Rosa – issued statements that either supported ABS-CBN or did not question its right to renew its franchise.
Even Go did not call for the outright rejection of the franchise. He merely explained the reason Duterte is upset with the media giant.
"Hindi mababaw ang rason ng Pangulo sa kanyang grievances against the network. Nasaktan at nababoy ang Presidente. Hindi vindictive ang Pangulo. But it's clear someone went overboard," Go said. (The grievances of the President against the network are not shallow. He was hurt and felt violated.)
Go added: "Kung masama ka kay Pangulo, mas maging masama siya sa ’yo. Kung mabait ka kay Pangulo, mas mabait siya sa ’yo. If you want fair reporting, then ilabas ’nyo ang katotohanan bakit nasaktan ang Pangulo," Go said.
(If you are mean to the President, he will be meaner to you. If you are nice to the President, then he will be nicer to you. If you want fair reporting, then you ought to report the truth about why the President was hurt.)
Before he ended, Go said: “I will appeal to the President for the simple reason na ayaw kong may mawalan ng trabaho.” (I will appeal to the President for the simple reason that I don't want people to lose jobs.)
Carlo Katigbak, ABS-CBN's CEO, apologized to the President.
“We're sorry if we offended the President, that is not the intention of the network. We felt that we were just abiding by the law and regulations surrounding the airing of political ads,” Katigbak said.
Katigbak clarified that the media giant was able to air all the national ads ordered by Duterte's campaign team – amounting to P117 million – and that the anti-Duterte ad paid for by Trillanes' camp was covered by the fair election law.
Where the problem began. Katigbak explained that ABS-CBN had more leeway in showing national ads, as they were allowed to air 19 minutes of them per hour. For local ads, the allocation was only two minutes per hour – and that was where the problem with the Duterte campaign ads happened.
"In the case of the local ads, doon kami nagkaproblema talaga (that's where we encountered a problem). The President placed P65-million worth of spots, in which we failed to air P7-million worth," Katigbak said.
On claims that the media giant "swindled" the President, ABS-CBN clarified that about P4 million of the already-paid-for ads were returned, but the remaining P2.6 million was delayed.
"We were delayed in refunding the P2.6 million, which Senator Go showed, and that P2.6 million was no longer accepted. We are acknowledging our shortcoming that we failed to release the refund in a timely manner," Katigbak said.
Because of this precedent, ABS-CBN in 2019 implemented a new policy on political ads. Katigbak said that clients whose ads were not aired will be refunded within 7 days.
'Only following the law'
On the anti-Duterte ads, however, Katigbak said: "Unlike the ads of the President that we were unable to air, these (Trillanes-paid) ads were aired on the national basis, part of the 19 minutes per hour... which has more inventory to accommodate the ad," Katigbak said.
Katigbak reiterated that the network complied with election laws when the internal committee gave the greenlight to air Trillanes' ad.
Katigbak told the Senate hearing that the initial version of the Trillanes-paid ad was rejected by the ABS-CBN internal committee as the children were “performing in an inappropriate manner.”
It was later accepted after the revised ad showed the children asking questions instead. "We felt that it did not violate any of our internal policies," he said.
Katigbak added that as member of the Kapisanan ng Broadkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), they followed its code.
“Any candidate that comes to our station that has an ad that are legal and legitimate must be accommodated and not discriminated,” the ABS-CBN president said.
Days after the anti-Duterte ad was aired, a Taguig court issued a temporary restraining order on the airing of the ad, over the appearance of minors in the video.
Katigbak took the occasion "to make a categorical statement that ABS does not and will not have its own political agenda."
Duterte has been blasting the media company since becoming president, calling the Lopez family which owns it "oligarchs" and accusing the company of "swindling" him.
He vowed the company would never be able to renew its franchise. At some point, Duterte suggested the Lopezes should just sell to a new owner.
Malacañang on Monday said that ABS-CBN should have "admitted its shortcomings earlier."
On Katigbak's apology, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said it's up to the President to accept it or not.
Republic Act 7966 that grants ABS-CBN's franchise is set to expire 25 years from March 30, 1995, but since the law became effective only 15 days after its publication on April 19 of that year, the justice department says the franchise actually expires on May 4, 2020.
Trillanes, for his part, is not convinced that the airing of the anti-Duterte ad is the reason for the President's beef with ABS-CBN.
In a statement on Monday, he said that GMA Network also aired the political ad "yet Duterte never complained about it." GMA did air the political ad, but pulled it out even before the Taguig court issued a temporary restraining order.
GMA's franchise was the first to be renewed during the 17th Congress and was signed into law by Duterte on April 21, 2017.
Trillanes said, "Definitely there is another ulterior motive in the blocking of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal."
Meanwhile, Cayetano, Duterte's losing running mate in 2016, chimed in with his own grievances against the network, saying he had "evidence" to prove the network favored certain candidates during the campaign.
"Remember, kung anuman ang lumabas sa Senado, that’s only half, 1/3, 1/4 of the story. Maraming may alam na di naman 'pinatawag ng Senado or kumukuha pa ng lakas ng loob," Cayetano said.
(Remember that whatever came out of the Senate hearing was only half, 1/3 or 1/4 of the story. There are still other people who know things but we're not invited by the Senate or who are still mustering the courage to speak up.)
"So okay 'yong ibang explanation (So the other explanations are okay), but there are still a lot of facts that will come out later on, that will show that there are some lapses...or, at worse, na tumaya talaga ang ABS management (that ABS-CBN's management really placed their bet on) some candidates. We have the evidence for that," the Speaker added.
Cayetano said while lawmakers are aware politicians commit certain abuses, "there are also abuses on the media side." – with a report from Mara Cepeda/Rappler.com
STORIES FROM THE FEBRUARY 24 SENATE HEARING: