Catholic bishops in Asia pose for a photograph after a Mass in Bangkok during the golden jubilee celebration of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences in March 2023. (Photo: FABC)

By UCA News reporter

Aug 14 2023

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the head of the Asian bishops’ federation, has revoked his four-month-old order to suspend the federation’s radio project in the Philippines.

Bo, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), suspended the Manila-based Radio Veritas Asia (RVA) on March 28 following an alleged ownership row between the federation and the catholic majority nation’s bishops’ conference.

Bo’s Aug. 10 revocation statement appealed to “all those who are associated with the work of RVA to continue their work with wholehearted commitment.”

Considering “the important mission” of RVA, “it is imperative that we continue to go forward with the work of RVA,” Cardinal Bo said.

The 74-year-old Myanmar cardinal said he suspended the project because of “certain circumstances that emerged.”  They are “now being duly addressed by concerned authorities, a resolution of outstanding issues is in sight,” said the statement.

His March 28 order said “all activities of the project based in the Philippine capital Manila will be suspended” from March 29 because of “deep concerns” arising out of “some kind of disorder and anomaly.”

Bo’s decision became controversial after the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) questioned his authority to issue such an order.

Philippines bishops’ conference president Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan told UCA News that the suspension order “was not backed up by hard evidence, and did not have the approval of the FABC central committee.”

David said RVA functioned in Manila following an agreement between FABC and his conference, which entrusted RVA operation to the bishops’ conference.

The Philippine bishops created a local corporation — the Philippine Radio Educational and Information Center, Inc. (PREIC) — for “legal ownership and administration of RVA,” he told UCA News.

Under the legal ownership of PREIC, the radio station has “operated in the Philippines for more than five decades,” the bishop said.

“The difficulties only began” when the executive secretary of the FABC’s Office for Social Communication (FABC-OSC) “intervened directly in the management of RVA,”  David added.

Salesian Father George Plathottam, FABC-OSC executive secretary, maintains that although PREIC is the legal owner, FABC owns the radio project and it has entrusted his commission with the job of running it.

The commission, under FABC, made the appointments of the project and decided on its resources, and the PREIC “just signed the papers for their legal validity.”

“Problems started when the Philippine bishops claimed ownership of the project and began to make decisions,” he said.

A five-member body headed by FABC chairman Archbishop Tarcisius Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo has been studying the issues, the priest said.

Plathottam said despite the suspension “all activities in Manila, the RVA continued” and in effect, Bo’s “suspension order was not honored.”

However, David said Philippine bishops are not involved in any ownership dispute.

“It is clear to Philippine bishops that the liquid assets of RVA, and many solid assets, have been acquired through funding agencies for FABC. Other Asian bishops also contributed to RVA.” 

Lawyer Linette Piñon, who specializes in corporate disputes said, “Under Philippine law, the registered owner of the land has the sole power to administer and manage the property.”

Besides, according to local laws “ownership and management of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations, wholly owned and managed by such citizens.” Piñon said.

The radio service went on air in 1969 but the short-wave radio service was shut down in 2018.

Although called a radio project, currently it only provides audio-visual content through a website in 22 Asian languages. – UCA News