Day 1 recap: Telenovela sa Senado | The Senate hearing on the ABS-CBN franchise

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BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – It was like Ang Probinsyano, the telenovela where the main character refuses to die except that this one was larger than that on the silver screen.

With billions of pesos involved, a slighted president and 11,000 workers who might lose their jobs, all against the backdrop of a public on the edge because of a virus and a presidential election creeping closely.

There was drama, some tension, emotion, even a Probinsyano character who was, however, a senator, Lito Lapid.

As the hearing was broadcast live on YouTube by ANC, a subsidiary of ABS-CBN, DNX took note of significant happenings during the hearing.

Senators who took part questioned resource persons seemingly along political lines on issues that have already been discussed repeatedly, and reported by the press.

Only one, a neophyte, raised a new interesting point: the opening by the network of companies abroad, one in a known tax haven.

For almost the entire day, the Senate public information and mass media panel chaired by Sen. Grace Poe saw top officials of the network and officials of government agencies answering questions and trying to shed light on issues surrounding the franchise of the second-oldest TV network in Asia.

Senator Lawrence “Bong” Go, a close ally of President Duterte, said in his opening statement the President’s reasons for his grievances against ABS-CBN were not “shallow” and stem from an unfair decision by the network to not air some of his advertisements, part of a package worth a total of P117 million.

Go, however, clarified that ABS refunded the President part of the amount, a claim confirmed by network president Carlo Katigbak who also apologized to the President and pointed out there was no intent to offend him.

“We have no political agenda,” Katigbak, young, bespectacled, the first to hold a surname other than Lopez to head the company, told senators.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the Senate will continue to discuss the ABS-CBN franchise amid claims that it is the House of Representatives and not the Senate that should discuss and decide on the extension.

Allies of the president were persistent on the issues against ABS, particularly the Philippine Depositary Receipts or PDRs issued by ABS-CBN Holdings Corporation that government contends is in violation of the Constitutional provision that mandates media entities to be fully owned by locals.

Former police director general Rolando dela Rosa went a step further and questioned the citizenship of Eugenio Gabriel “Gabby” López, III who took over as president of ABS-CBN in 1993 before becoming its chairman and chief executive officer in 1996.

Dela Rosa said Lopez was an American citizen when he became company president and was naturalized only in 2004 through a law authored by Drilon.

Katigbak, answering Dela Rosa’s question, said Lopez was a Filipino holding a Filipino passport.

It was Sen. Francisco Tolentino’s examination of the company’s offshore holdings, however, that sparked a new discussion on taxes not being paid to the tax bureau.

Tolentino, banking on the declaration of Katigbak that the company is waiving confidentiality on fiscal and corporate transactions, hammered in on the overseas interests of ABS, which serves at least two million Filipinos abroad.

“I want to vaccinate you on these issues,” Tolentino said as he proceeded to ask Katigbak about subsidiaries registered by ABS-CBN in the Cayman Islands and in Budapest, Hungary.

Katigbak, seemingly taken aback by the question, brought in their chief financial officer, Ron Valdueza, to explain.

Valdueza admitted there was a subsidiary opened in the Cayman Islands but this was no longer operational.

The Budapest subsidiary, meanwhile, was opened because Hungary was the country where ABS can “best monetize international rights for our content,” he said.

Tolentino pointed out corporations can enjoy a 20-year tax break in the Cayman Islands and a 7.5 percent corporate tax in Hungary, significantly lower than the one here.

Poe even noted that Cayman has a reputation for being a tax haven.

The Cayman Islands is in the western Caribbean Sea under the British Overseas Territory that is comprised of three low-lying islands.

Unlike most countries, it is globally known to be a great location of providing offshore banking services to foreign enterprises and conglomerates that allow them to avoid paying income taxes in their countries of residence – in short, a tax haven.

The Cayman government doesn’t have a corporate tax to charge, making it as perfect place of establishing multinational companies and corporations to base subsidiary entities and safeguard their incomes from taxation.

Like Cardo, the franchise of ABS lives on.

It is not known, however if, like Cardo, it can be brought back to life past 4 May. /Julius D. Mariveles with reporting from Hannah A. Papasin and Bianca A. Montilla

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