VERA FILES FACT CHECK: FB post’s claim that ABS-CBN owes gov’t billions NEEDS CONTEXT

A July 27 post by Facebook (FB) page DT lifted parts of a Philippine News Agency (PNA) report carrying President Rodrigo Duterte’s claim during his 2021 State of the Nation Address (SONA) that media giant ABS-CBN “still owe[s the] government billions” in unpaid taxes.

The FB post and PNA’s July 26 report both need context, as Duterte’s claim is not true and has already been refuted by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) at least twice last year.

First was during a Feb. 24, 2020 Senate Committee hearing on ABS-CBN’s renewal of legislative franchise where Simplicio Cabantac Jr., then Chief of BIR’s Large Taxpayers Audit Division 3, told the Senate panel that the media company is “regularly filing and paying their taxes for the past number of years.”

This was reiterated by the agency around four months later before the House of Representatives. BIR Assistant Commissioner Manuel V. Mapoy said ABS-CBN Corporation’s payment totaled to over P15.3 billion from 2016 to 2019, and to P71.5 billion from 2003 to 2019. These amounts included both direct and indirect taxes.

Tama po ‘yung sinabi ni Mr. Cabantac that ABS-CBN Corporation ay regularly paying taxes for the past years (What Mr. Cabantac said is true, that ABS-CBN Corporation has been regularly paying taxes for the past years),” Mapoy said.

He added that the company has no tax delinquency as it has been paying its deficiency taxes promptly.

Despite these debunks, the House still cited the “questionable and unjust, if not immoral, tax avoidance scheme” of ABS-CBN as one of its reasons in denying the media company a renewal of its franchise, as per the Technical Working Group (TWG) report released by the House Committee on Legislative Franchises on July 10 last year.

Seventy legislators voted to ratify the TWG report, killing the media network’s chances of going back on air after it was forced to stop its TV and radio broadcasts on May 5, following the expiration of its franchise.

DTs post also carried Duterte’s quote cited in the PNA report that the media company “actually has 40 hectares” of property.

ABS-CBN Corporation’s 2016 annual report uploaded in the online portal of the Philippine Stock Exchange states that the network’s operations take place in the “44,000 square meters” or 4.4-hectare compound in Quezon City. The company also stated this detail about its property in a fact-check article it published on its website the day after Duterte’s SONA.

Social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle shows DT’s post already got over 10,700 interactions from FB users and could have reached around 1.6 million netizens. Traffic to the post came largely from the page itself, as well as from pages Bayan Ko Ph and Solid Rodrigo Duterte Fighters.

DT, which was created in December 2009, has been flagged by VERA Files Fact Check several times in the past for peddling disinformation.

(Editor’s Note: VERA Files has partnered with Facebook to fight the spread of disinformation. Find out more about this partnership and our methodology.)