President Rodrigo Duterte has asked the Office of the Ombudsman to probe broadcasting firm ABS-CBN for graft, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, Jr. said on Tuesday. 

Roque made the comment when asked to elaborate on the details of unpaid taxes and condoned loans of ABS-CBN which Duterte mentioned in his address to the nation on Monday night. 

In his speech, Duterte said he will not allow ABS-CBN to resume operations even if Congress grants it a franchise. This is despite the statements of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Development Bank of the Philippines that ABS-CBN has no unpaid tax dues and has no condoned loans, respectively. 

“Ni-refer na po ng Presidente ang bagay na ito sa Ombudsman,” Roque said during the briefing. 

“Ombudsman na po ang bahala sa cause of action for violation of our Anti-Graft law,” Roque added.

Back in July 2020, the House Committee on Legislative Franchises rejected ABS-CBN’s application for a franchise to operate for 25 years. It said the broadcast company violated its old franchise with former chairman Eugenio Lopez III having both Filipino and American citizenship, the issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts supposedly favoring foreigners, inappropriate program content, meddling in politics, tax avoidance schemes, less than exemplary labor practices, among others.

Likewise, the House also said ABS-CBN cannot invoke the freedom of the press in justifying its franchise application. 

The rejection came even though the BIR as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), cleared ABS-CBN Corporation of violations during the same hearing. 

As a result of the rejection, ABS-CBN laid off workers amid a COVID-19 pandemic.

The no vote came more than two months after the network’s franchise lapsed on May 4.

The bills seeking franchise renewal for ABS-CBN have been pending since 2014 but the House only decided to start its deliberations on these proposals in March 2020.

Under the Constitution, “no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” 

Last month, at least 15 senators have expressed support for the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.

The bill, authored by Sotto, seeks to give the broadcasting network another 25-year franchise.

Franchise bills, however, must originate from the House of Representatives before it can be tackled in the Senate.

Batangas Representative Vilma Santos-Recto then filed a new bill in mid-January seeking to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN.

However, House committee on legislative franchises chair Franz Alvarez said the issue of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal is best addressed in the next Congress—KG, GMA News