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Duterte vows to block ABS-CBN operations if it gets franchise

Duterte says he won’t allow ABS-CBN Corp. to operate even with franchise.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday night said he would bar ABS-CBN Corp. from using free TV and radio frequencies even if it gets a fresh franchise from Congress.

During a televised meeting on Monday night, the President said he would ensure that the media giant, which is critical of his government, does not get a permit to operate from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

Mr. Duterte said he does not have a problem with lawmakers restoring ABS-CBN’s franchise. “But I will now allow them to operate.”

A House of Representatives body in July rejected ABS-CBN’s franchise application, in what critics see as a grievous assault on press freedom.

Voting 70 to 11, members of the committee on legislative franchises denied the 25-year extension plea, saying the media giant was “undeserving.”

Human Rights Watch said not since the dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos shut down ABS-CBN and other media outlets in 1972 has a single government act caused so much damage to media freedom.

It said the House rejection solidified the tyranny of Mr. Duterte, who had accused ABS-CBN of being biased against him and politically targeted it for refusing to toe the government’s line and criticizing his war on drugs.

On Monday, Mr. Duterte said the network should first settle its unpaid obligations to the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP). He has said the network had P1.6 billion worth of loans in 2006 that the state lender supposedly condoned.

Unless and until the Lopez family, which controls the company, pays their taxes, “I will ignore your franchise and I will not give them the license to operate,” the President said.

Granting the Lopez family a franchise to operate is like “giving them a prize for committing criminal acts,” he added.

Lopez Holdings Corp., the network’s parent company, earlier said it does not owe any state financial institutions.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) earlier said the broadcaster had been regularly paying its taxes.

Critics have said the issue of ABS-CBN’s franchise had become both personal and political. Mr. Duterte had openly harbored a grudge against the broadcaster.

In 2017, he accused ABS-CBN of swindling after it refused to run political ads he had paid for during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Mr. Duterte had also criticized the broadcaster for airing news stories about his alleged secret bank accounts. He said he would block the renewal of the company’s franchise if he had his way.

“I will not let it pass,” he said in 2018. “Your franchise will end. You know why? Because you are thieves.”

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility on Feb. 11 called the case against the network a “dangerous attempt to control and silence free press.”

The tough-talking Mr. Duterte had on numerous occasions unleashed a stream of profanity against dissenting journalists whom he accused of bias and unfair reporting.

Journalists have also been targeted by Mr. Duterte’s Facebook supporters — known bloggers with huge followings and who have fiercely defended him and his policies.

Mr. Duterte has slammed media outlets such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer, ABS-CBN and Rappler for criticizing his government, particularly his war on drugs that has killed thousands of suspected pushers. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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