SolGen asks for gag order on plea to cancel ABS-CBN's franchise

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Solicitor General Jose Calida now wants to stop ABS-CBN and its representatives from discussing the case pending before the Supreme Court. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 18) — Solicitor General Jose Calida has asked the Supreme Court to issue a gag order to stop ABS-CBN and its representatives from discussing the quo warranto case which he filed against the network.

Calida on Tuesday filed a "very urgent motion" asking the high court to issue the order that bans "parties and persons acting on their behalf" from releasing statements discussing the merits of his plea to forfeit ABS-CBN's existing franchise. He said this violates the sub judice rule, which prohibits anyone from publicly assessing an ongoing case to avoid pre-judgment.

Calida on February 10 asked the high court to cancel ABS-CBN's legislative franchise weeks before it lapses. He claimed the network committed "highly abusive practices" in violation of terms set by Congress when it approved ABS-CBN's franchise in 1995 when it set up the KBO channel and when it supposedly allowed foreign investors to control the company.

Supreme Court Public Information Office Chief Brian Keith Hosaka said ABS-CBN Corporation and ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc. have been given up to five days from receipt of the new petition to submit their response to the gag order plea.

However, Hosaka clarified that the gag order, if approved, would also cover Calida and the Office of the Solicitor General. The SC en banc is set to meet again next Wednesday, a day after the February 25 holiday marking the1986 EDSA Revolution anniversary.

Hosaka added that senators, who are set to conduct an inquiry into supposed violations committed by ABS-CBN, would not be covered by the rule.

The government's top lawyer accused that the network "engaged in propaganda" after the case was filed last week. He cited a video entitled "Quo warranto petition laban sa ABS-CBN, ano ang ibig sabihin?" led by anchor Christian Esguerra which aired February 14, saying that the item directly tackled Calida's allegations against the TV station.

Calida took this as a "clear attempt to elicit public sympathy, sway public opinion, and, ultimately, to influence the resolution of the case," he said in a statement.

Calida also called out two other video reports and a series of commentaries published on ABS-CBN's website, as well as articles quoting showbiz personalities throwing support behind the Lopez-owned network. He said these would "tend to influence public opinion and unfairly encourage the pre-judgment of the instant case."


The Solicitor General also took offense at ABS-CBN's statements denying that it violated the law in response to the filing of the complaint, followed by a clarification that the network had no unpaid taxes to refute comments thrown to them online.

"Verily, inasmuch as ABS-CBN unquestionably directed its statements on the merits of the quo warranto case to influence the public and members of this Honorable Court, this Honorable Court must issue an order prohibiting the parties and persons acting on their behalf from releasing any statements discussing the merits of the subject petition," the Solicitor General said in his plea.

Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said separately that Calida was right in asking for a gag order, stressing anew that President Rodrigo Duterte would not personally interfere with the network's franchise woes.

"Parang nagiging emotional ang issue on this particular topic. It's much ado about nothing, it's not about press freedom," Panelo said in a media briefing.

Duterte has repeatedly ranted against the network, saying it failed to air his political advertisements for the 2016 elections, and vowed to see to it that ABS-CBN would be out of business this year. In December, he told the Lopezes to just sell the company to a new owner to stay on air.

"He will not use his office to stop ABS-CBN from continuing with its service. That's for Congress to decide, not for him," Panelo added.

Former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te said the Supreme Court should revisit the sub judice rule as it "makes no sense" since the Philippines does not hear cases using a jury composed of ordinary people.

Amnesty International Regional Director Nicholas Bequelin urged Calida to withdraw his plea for a gag order, saying it is a "clear attempt to silence critics of the government, and would set a very dangerous precedent in violation of the right to freedom of expression."

"It is unacceptable for the authorities to blatantly attempt to restrict freedom of expression and then expect people in the Philippines to simply remain silent. If anything, the government’s continued efforts to undermine the press’s ability to report freely will only invite more criticism," Bequelin said.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said Calida's request for a gag order was an "obvious attempt to silence all voices opposed to this government's push to shut down ABS-CBN," and is tantamount to surpressing the truth.

Media groups have earlier cried foul over Calida's bid to forfeit ABS-CBN's franchise, saying it was an attack on press freedom. The Solicitor General has denied that the case he filed was politically motivated.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.