Who would protest the selling of the RPN-9 and IBC-13 networks?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2010-08-24

That’s right who would protest the selling of the RPN-9 and IBC-13 broadcast networks which have been under sequestration since 1986 and have long ceased to be competitive and viable? Who would argue with the point that government has no business operating three broadcast networks and should focus on its real priorities?

What immediately comes to mind is that the long concealed real owners of RPN-9 and IBC-13 would have the biggest issue against the selling of the two broadcast networks. Thus, it came as no surprise that when Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma announced the Aquino government’s determination to sell the two networks — former First Lady and now Representative Imelda Marcos and Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. immediately protested.

Senator Bongbong Marcos was reported as saying: “I thought sequestration did not mean the ownership of government. Sequestration was only meant to safeguard the assets of a certain company. Why is it that this administration behaves like it owns these assets?”

Now does that not sound to you like the long concealed real owner talking?

It is easy to conclude that because these two networks were precisely sequestered for suspicion that they were owned by the late Dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos and were, for the most part, managed for him by his crony, the late Ambassador Bobby Benedicto. 

The fact that Marcos daughter Imee took over these two networks sometime in 1984 and operated these through Mon Monzon supports the belief that Bobby Benedicto was only a Marcos caretaker. Only an owner — or his son or daughter — could have ejected Bobby Benedicto from the two networks.

Your Chair Wrecker has been doing business with the Benedicto managed broadcast networks since 1978 — first with the now NBN-4 and later with RPN-9. As an independent television programmer, we also provided vital support to RPN-9 during the period when it was already sequestered and started losing its competitive edge.

The erosion of the two networks forced the then Board of Administrators of the Cory Aquino administration to enlist management teams in 1989. One team was contracted to manage IBC-13 while yours truly headed the team that managed RPN-9.

It is not true that RPN-9 business kept plummeting all throughout the sequestration era. It flourished under my watch. We had an average of five programs in the Top 20 Weekly Primetime Program ratings.

RPN-9 was losing P90 million when we took over the management and marketing in October 1989 (and I assumed the presidency). Gross sales were down to less than P200 million that year. But by the time I left RPN in September 1992, the network was headed towards gross sales of P600 million and a bottom-line of P100 million. This reversal of a serious downtrend was achieved during one of the most trying periods in the history of the Philippine economy. From late 1989 to 1992, the Philippines was plagued by a series of natural and man-made disasters. 

Despite the re-energized RPN-9, I kept pushing for its privatization. The reasons are as follows: 

1. A sequestered network is always at the bottom of the pecking order when vying to acquire performing stars and programs. No Piolo Pascual or Kris Aquino would consider transferring to RPN-9. The big US studios are also wary of selling their top programs to sequestered networks – knowing that they’re not dealing with the real owners.

2. A sequestered network cannot apply for loans because the banks will feel insecure dealing with temporary occupiers.

3. Government should not engage in the media business.

The Cory Aquino administration intently wanted to privatize RPN-9 and IBC-13 but there were legal impediments rooted to its real owners. Why would somebody like Jaime Zobel de Ayala pay over P1 billion for something that its real owners could reclaim after the political climate changes?

There were those FEMI shares that could not be accounted for. Come to think of it — doesn’t FEM in FEMI jibe with Ferdinand Edralin Marcos?

President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy) should just sell the two networks as is. The plan to rehabilitate these before selling them sounds good but it’s really not feasible. RPN-9 has a semblance of competitive programming only because of the shows of Solar Entertainment which is headed by my good friend and Tokayo (namesake), William Tieng.

IBC-13 has sunk beyond repair. The P-Noy government can spend P200 million on IBC-13 and they won’t even be able raise its selling price by a peso. It needs both hardware and software overhaul and these are expensive. Manny Pangilinan was reported to have allocated P10 billion when he bought ABC-5 which was doing much better than IBC-13 when he purchased it. ABC-5 has not even dented the ABS-CBN and GMA Network duopoly in ratings and sales.

The expected big cost of that planned rehab and overhaul of RPN-9 and IBC-13 is better allocated for the improvement of the government network, NBN-4. Add whatever sales proceeds are realized from the disposal of RPN-9 and IBC-13 to the NBN-4 improvements and we might yet elevate the government network to the class of a BBC.

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