QUEZON CITY Philippines — ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. parent firm of The Filipino Channel which airs on Marianas CableVision Guam will likely post lower profit in the first quarter of the year owing to substantial expenses incurred from the recent stampede before the airing of its most popular game show Wowowee.

In an exclusive interview with the Journal Randolph T. Estrellado vice president and chief financial officer of ABS-CBN Broadcasting said “There will be an impact on the first quarter [earnings] ” due to “non-deferrable expenses” arising from the Feb. 4 stampede at the Philsports Arena [formerly Ultra].

While he said “it [was] still too early” to be able to determine the stampede’s impact on the firm’s finances Estrellado stressed that only the broadcasting unit would pay for the expenses arising from the incident which killed 71 and injured 608. “ABS-CBN Broadcasting will use its own resources to pay for the basic expenses. We are committed to paying for the funeral and hospitalization expenses of the victims ” he said.

This was confirmed by Tina Monzon-Palma director of the Foundation’s Bantay Bata program which gives assistance to abused and neglected children. “Foundation funds have not been spent. We have restricted funds…money donated to us is for a specific purpose ” she told the Journal. Mike Defensor newly appointed chief of staff of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had earlier criticized the network for using the funds of its foundation.

Monzon-Palma added that she has “not yet seen a bill” of the money spent to help victims of the stampede which happened as a crowd rushed towards the Philsports Arena’s gate in a bid to get prized raffle tickets. “The network has assigned us a cashier to tally our daily expenses ” she said which includes payment for hospitalization funeral costs transportation clothes medicines among others. Many vie for the slim chance to win prize packages and cash that average about 3 million to 4 million pesos ($58 157 to $77 542) a month. Government prosecutors are conducting an investigation to determine responsibility for the stampede.

Estrellado said the TV network will not tap the other firms owned by Lopez Inc. which is the single biggest bloc of shareholders of ABS-CBN Broadcasting to help pay for the stampede’s expenses. “No we won’t use their resources. We are separate from the operations of our sister companies ” he said. Lopez Inc. owns close to 58% of ABS-CBN Broadcasting while some private individuals and public shareholders hold the rest of the shares.

ABS-CBN Broadcasting is the flagship of Benpres Holdings Corp. which holds the Lopez family’s interests in broadcasting and cable TV telecommunications power generation and distribution property development information technology and health care. Under Benpres are major Lopez-led companies such as the Manila Electric Co. Bayan Telecommunications Holdings Corp. Asian Eye Institute Rockwell Land Corp. First Generation Corp. Maynilad Water and Medical City.

Meanwhile with input from industry sources independent financial experts tapped by the Journal estimated that ABS-CBN’s first quarter profit would be eaten away by some 50.3 million pesos (roughly $970 000) representing immediate costs due to the Wowowee stampede. Of the amount about 29% or 14.5 million pesos ($289 090) will be accounted for by lost advertising revenues. Another 14 million pesos ($271 397) will be payments for funeral and burial expenses as well as compensatory damages as required under Philippine law. A TV industry insider who spoke on the condition of anonymity estimates that the network may have also spent some 10 million pesos ($193 855) in production costs. “The venue had already been paid for. There were also expenses arising from transportation sound engineering logistics stage design etc. ” he said.

Romeo Borsoto manager of the Pasig City branch of Arlington Funeral Homes where the Wowowee dead were immediately brought said “a metal casket” costs roughly 75 000 pesos ($1 450) under Arlington’s funeral package.

According to Monzon-Palma the network also had to buy memorial lots. “If they didn’t have any lots of their own we had to find one for them ” she said. Some victims may have been buried in lots in government-owned cemeteries which cost about 35 000 pesos ($677) while the others are in private cemeteries where lots are priced at about 75 000 pesos ($1 450) according to sources in the funeral and mortuary services industry.

Bong Baybay lawyer is a lawyer and partner in the lawfirm of Lopez Rasul Maliwanag Baybay Palaran & Associates told the Journal that a Philippine Supreme Court ruling placed damages on a person who died from “reckless impudence” at 50 000 pesos ($967) per deceased. “This amount can increase depending on the estimated remaining income earning capacity of the person who died ” he explained.

According to Marilyn Atienza assistant vice president of Medical City in Pasig where 262 of the injured victims were brought said over 90% were treated only on an out-patient basis and sent home the same day. “The hospitalization expenses which include doctor’s fees x-rays and medicines were less than a million pesos ($19 400).” Total hospital expenses of the 608 injured amounted to 2.43 million pesos ($47 107).

The rest of the immediate costs were in the form of food transportation and medicines of the injured as well as burial expenses.

Astro T. Del Castillo managing director of First Grade Holdings a securities firm told the Journal that if ABS-CBN Broadcasting absorbs all the expenses arising from the stampede “definitely you will see an impact on its first quarter earnings.” He said instead of posting a profit in the first quarter as many market analysts may have anticipated the listed company will likely see smaller “or no income” in said period. MBJ