SolGen wants Supreme Court to forfeit ABS-CBN franchise

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 10) — Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a petition before the Supreme Court to revoke the existing franchise of ABS-CBN, saying the TV network has violated rules set by Congress.

The government's lawyer ran to the high court with a "very urgent" motion requesting to cancel ABS-CBN's legislative franchise weeks before it lapses. Calida claimed that the Lopez-owned network committed violations in the terms set by Congress when it approved ABS-CBN's franchise in 1995.

The quo warranto petition was lodged against ABS-CBN Corporation and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence Inc.

Calida said he wants to put an end to "highly abusive practices of ABS-CBN" which went unnoticed for years. For one, he said the network allowed foreign investors to "take part in the ownership of a Philippine mass media entity" despite being prohibited by the Constitution.

He likened the violation to online network Rappler, which supposedly issued Philippine Deposit Receipts to foreigners which meant giving control and voting rights to them. 

READ: We won't go after other media firms with depositary receipts, SEC says

ABS-CBN also went beyond its mandate when it launched its TV Plus subscription service and the KBO Channel without approval from the National Telecommunications Commission, according to the complaint. 

"The legislative franchises of ABS-CBN Corporation and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc., must be revoked. A franchise is a special privilege granted by the State, and should be restricted only to entities which faithfully adhere to our Constitution and laws," Calida said in a statement.

But Calida claimed that there's no politics involved in filing the petition.

President Rodrigo Duterte has personally vowed to put the channel and its subsidiaries out of business, even telling its executives to just sell the company. It has been said that Duterte had personal ire against ABS-CBN for not airing his political ads during the May 2016 elections, where he eventually won.

Several bills seeking to renew ABS-CBN for another 25 years remain pending before the House Committee on Legislative Franchises. These have not been taken up since the 18th Congress started in July last year.

The existing franchise expires March 30.

RELATED: Lawmaker tells OSG to let Congress handle ABS-CBN franchise issue

International group Human Rights Watch decried Duterte's moves blocking the franchise renewal, taking it as a curtailment of press freedom. The group added that lawmakers should remain "independent" from the President's whims.

"These actions are part of a broader crackdown on media outlets and civil society groups that dare criticize him (Duterte)," HRW said.

The President has repeatedly slammed the network since 2018 for supposedly failing to air his presidential campaign advertisements in 2016. ABS-CBN has over 10,000 employees and talents as of end-2018, who may lose their jobs if the network is forced to cease operations.

READ: Rights group urges Congress to 'resist' Duterte on threats vs. ABS-CBN

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines had been staging a series of protest actions, calling threats against ABS-CBN an affront to press freedom and freedom of expression.

"Ito'y nagpapatibay na talagang gagawin ng pamahalaang ito ang lahat para ipasara ang isang network na hindi sinasang-ayunan ng Pangulo. That is very, very dangerous to press freedom," NUJP Chairperson Nonoy Espina told CNN Philippines' Newsroom Ngayon. "Ang nakataya dito ay malayang pamamahayag. Kapag pinatahimik mo ang media, mas lalong kawawa ang taumbayan dahil mas lalo silang mawawalan ng pagkukuhanan ng impormasyon."

[Translation: This proves that this government will do whatever it takes to shut down a network that the President doesn't agree with. Freedom of speech is at stake here. If you silence the media, the people are in peril because they will lose a platform where they can get the information that they need.]

Former ABS-CBN reporter now Laguna Rep. Sol Aragones said she remains hopeful that Congress will start discussions on the bill, saying there were at least 15 lawmakers in the House of Representatives who have filed measures for the franchise renewal.

She added that there's one month left for Congress sessions before the franchise lapses.