Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler
Veteran action star and Senator Manuel "Lito" Lapid made a rare Senate appearance during the hearing of ABS-CBN's franchise on Monday, February 24, to ask his former bosses in the media giant if the President is mad at them.
"Maraming nagtataka dito, bigla kong sumulpot sa hearing na ito. At wala naman pong kasinungalingan na ang ABS-CBN, malapit sa puso ko 'yan…Kaya hindi nangangahulugan na kaya ako nandito ay para ipakita na ako ay biased, pero automatic naman 'yon. Kaya sinasabi man, ako naman, tapatan lang," Lapid added, eliciting laughter from the audience.
(A lot people here are wondering why I suddenly appeared in this hearing. There's no denying that ABS-CBN is close to my heart. That's why it doesn't mean that I am here to show my bias, but that's already automatic. That's why I'm saying I'm just being honest.)
Before making his point, Lapid tried to crack jokes as he asked how long ABS-CBN has been in operation. President and CEO Carlo Katigbak said it's been 66 years since it was founded in 1953.
"Ilang beses na kayo kumuha ng franchise? (How many times have you applied for a franchise?)" Lapid asked, to which Katigbak answered, "I think pangatlo na po (this is the third time)."
Lapid fired another question: "Sa una, sa pangalawa, nahirapan ba kayo?" (Did you encounter any difficulty when you applied for the first and the second one?)
"Di pa yata ako pinapanganak (I hadn't been born yet), Your Honor," replied Katigbak, who's only a few months shy of 50.
"Pareho tayo kaya tinatanong ko sa 'yo eh. Baka kay Madam [Cory] Vidanes alam n'ya. (We both don't know that's why I'm asking you. Maybe Madam Cory Vidanes can answer)," Lapid said, as the crowd erupted in laughter.
Vidanes is ABS-CBN's chief operating officer for its broadcast operations. She's only 57 years old.
"Pare-pareho tayo. Pero ako senior citizen na. (We both don't know. But I'm already a senior citizen)," said Lapid, who's turning 65 this year.
Overtime pay, contributions
But it seemed like Lapid could not directly ask his question as he segued into the topic of overtime pay for show crew, and if they receive contributions to mandatory employee benefits for the Social Security System, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, and Pag-IBIG Fund.
"Pinuno, Senator Pinuno," Vidanes said, referring to Lapid's role in the hit ABS-CBN series Ang Probinsyano before he ran for the Senate.
"Ang mga artista po binabayaran per program po, per taping day, so hindi po talaga binibigyan ng overtime dahil output po per each taping ang bayad sa aming mga artista," Vidanes added. (Our artists are being paid per program or per taping day, so we really don't pay for overtime work because artists are being paid for the output per each taping.)
Mark Nepomuceno, ABS-CBN corporate services head, also added that employees even get "above the mandated benefits of the government."
When he ran out of topics to bring up, Lapid then went back to asking if the media giant found it hard to renew its franchise under the Duterte administration.
Lapid asked Katigbak again: "Nahirapan po kayo? (Did you find it hard to apply?)"
"Nahirapan po (We had difficulty)," Katigbak answered.
Lapid then said: "Kaya po kayo nandito?" (That's why you're here?) "Opo (Yes)," Katigbak replied.
The veteran actor then posed a question to ABS-CBN chairman Mark Lopez: "Galit ba si Presidente sa inyo kaya kayo nahihirapan? Tanong lang." (Is the President mad at you that's why you're encountering difficulties? Just asking.)
"Your Honor, basehan lang po sa mga nakikita namin sa TV announcement ng Presidente ang basehan namin kung ano ang galit ng Presidente sa ABS-CBN," Lopez said. (Your Honor, our only basis for gauging the anger of the President towards ABS-CBN is his announcements on TV.)
Finally, Lapid tried to convey his point: "Kaya tinatanong ko ito kung galit sa inyo ang Pangulong Duterte na may galit sa inyo, ano 'yon?" (That's why I'm asking if President Duterte is mad at you, then why?)
"Para masabi 'nyo rito kung puwede kayong humingi ng paumanhin… kung anumang pagkukulang 'nyo. Nasa inyo ang mic. 'Yun lang po. Maraming salamat," Lapid said as he ended his interpellation and created an opening for an apology.
(So you can say here if you can ask for an apology for whatever your shortcomings are. You already have the mic. That's all. Thank you.)
On Monday, Katigbak apologized to the President for the ads it aired and did not air. Senator Christopher Bong Go, during the hearing, said that the President was "hurt" over the ad paid for by then-senator Antonio Trillanes IV which showed Duterte cursing, while Duterte's own ads were not aired.
After Go's speech, Katigbak said "sorry if we offended the President," and disclosed that a new policy was implemented in 2019. Clients whose ads are not aired by the media network should get their refunds within a week.
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 over the political ads.
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.
It's still unclear whether ABS-CBN will be allowed to operate after its franchise expires on May 4 – not March 30, as indicated in Republic Act 7966 – as Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra explained that the law was published only on April 19, 1995 and became effective only 15 days after, on May 4, 1995. – Rappler.com
STORIES FROM THE FEBRUARY 24 SENATE HEARING: