The end of ABS-CBN? Favradio

The end of ABS-CBN? Featured

THE ABS-CBN franchise ends March 20, 2020, nine months from today, unless the 18th Congress decides to renew it. Which means congressmen who are in the pocket of the franchisee could now carry out their end of the bargain or extract more concessions. It is often whispered that the grant of congressional franchises is one of the more lucrative rent-seeking occupations in the legislative process. The Lopez family, which owns the franchise, is in a bind. They may already have paid a down payment. But they are in a very weak position. For one, the Deegong doesn’t like them. And he owns Congress. The President from the very start has shown a marked distaste for the oligarchs and their kind, aggravated by their arrogance showing a clear bias for the Aquino candidate and preferential TV/radio time for PRRD’s opponents when DU30 was the presidential candidate in 2016. The President has a long memory.

So, the Lopezes perhaps may hope for DU30 to just go away — disappear, before the nine months is over. But this is wishful thinking. The Deegong is healthy and totally in control of the political structures of this country. So, where does the Lopez clan go from here?

But first a background on the franchise. According to House Bill 4997 introduced on Sept. 11, 2014 by Isabela Rep. Giorgidi B. Aggabao, “ABS-CBN’s first franchise was granted on June 14,1950 under the name Bolinao Electronics Corporation (BEC).” In its various corporate rebirths, it became ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. in 1967 and eventually ABS-CBN Corp. in 1986. The Aggabao bill has been pending since the 16th Congress when it was rushed, as the congressional atmosphere at that time during the PNoy regime may have been favorable to the franchisee. But it didn’t pass muster.

Forty-seven years ago, at exactly midnight on the day the Marcos martial law declaration was announced on Sept. 22, 1972, government troops seized the corporation and its affiliates and imprisoned its president, Eugenio “Geny’”Lopez, Jr., the son of the founder. The airwaves which they dominated fell silent.

Prior to this, the Marcos and the Lopez families shared a storied past which started in the early days of the republic. The politician Fernando “Nanding” Lopez, Sr. started his career as mayor of Iloilo City right after the war. Parlaying wealth and influence, he won as senator but was later recruited as President Quirino’s vice president and later reelected to the Senate. In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos got him as his vice president for two terms — a convenient marriage of old wealth and political power. “By the time martial law was declared in 1972, the Lopez family fell out of Marcos’ favor and was targeted by the dictatorship because of their denunciations of Marcos’ alleged corruption. They were also targeted due to their family’s political influence, being members of the entrenched oligarchy. The position of vice president was dissolved, and the Lopez family was stripped of most of its political and economic assets.” (Wikipedia)

The older Lopez brother, Eugenio “Eñing” Sr., was the businessman in the family who founded the Lopez business empire. This deadly combination of politics and business symbolized by the siblings, defined and nurtured this symbiotic relationship becoming the template for the Philippine oligarchy. Their later mistake, as proffered in countless political literature was to disparage the emerging political chrysalis that was the consort to Ferdinand, who as a young Manileña living with cousins in the residence of House Speaker Pro tempore Daniel Romualdez had a status “higher than servants and lower than family members as a poor relative” (Wikipedia). The old money Lopez brothers were urbane, highly educated and for the older one, Ateneo, UP and Harvard, but they were no match to the emerging greed of a ‘conjugal dictatorship.’

When martial law was declared, Marcos held Geny Lopez hostage using him to pressure the Lopez patriarch into giving up the clan’s business crown jewels – Meralco and ABS-CBN. The latter was a potent asset as it had the dominance of the airwaves used to expose government corruption on one hand, and on the other, intimidate political opponents and extract business concessions from government contracts advancing their business interests. At the beginning of martial rule, the Lopez family with their political and economic bully tactics never did get the sympathy of the populace.

Geny, who escaped prison in 1977 and went on exile in the United States, returned after the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, took over the helm of the media corporation and started rebuilding the company, or what was left of it after the 14-year takeover of Marcos crony Roberto Benedicto. By then, political dynasties and a new set of oligarchy had been introduced into the playing field eating into the domain of the Lopezes, but the return by Cory to Geny of ABS-CBN preserved the Lopez competitive advantage.

And the family went back into their old ways. Using ABS-CBN and its affiliates to gain advantage in business and politics; accumulating politicians in their pockets and binding their wills to theirs. But in the process established itself among the country’s well-run companies. In fact, “…in 2002, Finance Asia ranked ABS-CBN as the 8th best-managed company in the Philippines in its ‘Asia’s Best Companies 2002’ survey.” But they never forgot to whom they owed a debt of gratitude in recovering their business “crown jewels” — the Aquino-Cojuangco family.

ABS-CBN went beyond the boundaries of their government-granted franchise. Writ large in legislative service is the dictum, “The primary objective of all grants of franchise is to benefit the public; the rights or interests of the franchisee, are secondary.” This the Lopez Group conveniently ignored and with ABS-CBN as its primary tool supported to the hilt Cory’s inept son to win the presidency in 2010, glossing over his glaring errors and bungling mistakes. In 2016 they went for the PNoy’s alter-ego, Mar Roxas and alienated the Deegong. Big mistake!

Today, the tables are turned. ABS-CBN’s franchise is up for renewal for another 25 years. The 18th Congress convening in July will give the franchisee, the Lopez Group, barely eight months to convince Congress that they deserve to operate in the next 25 years. True, the power to grant franchises or extend the same is vested in Congress. But truer still is that behind Congress is the man they have heaped scorn on for long.

Where will the Lopez family go from here? They can start negotiating for the transfer or sale of ABS-CBN lock stock and barrel to one friendlier to the current regime and not entirely antithetical to the family’s interest, biding their time till the Deegong goes. This is the soft approach. Or initiate legal battles and bury the franchise issue deep in legal cases through delays in the courts while heading off Congress in the timely House Speaker fight. I’m sure the Lopez family has over the decades accumulated IOUs with the courts and with the bureaucracy and some congressional mercenaries are just too happy to oblige This is the hard approach. Whichever way, we are in for a battle royale which will impact the body politic for years to come.000
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