ABS-CBN wants Supreme Court to dismiss Calida's plea to void franchise

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Solicitor General Jose Calida was wrong to run to the Supreme Court to revoke ABS-CBN's franchise, the network says in its formal reply to the quo warranto petition.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 24) — ABS-CBN asked the Supreme Court to junk Solicitor General Jose Calida's petition to void its existing franchise, saying the top government lawyer's allegations were unfounded.

The media giant said Calida's quo warranto plea was misplaced, saying that it is Congress and not the high court which has the authority to revoke legislative franchises.

"Granting the petition would violate the fundamental principle of separation of powers," the network said in its comment filed Monday. "Respondents beseech this honorable court not to pre-empt Congress' exercise of its power."

Committees at the House of Representatives and Senate have finally started work on several bills looking to renew the network's franchise, but are far from seeing approval. House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said formal hearings in his chamber may start by May the earliest — just as ABS-CBN's franchise expires by May 4.

READ: Congress can authorize NTC to grant ABS-CBN provisional license to operate — DOJ 

ABS-CBN also said that Calida violated the hierarchy in the Judiciary, which only allows petitions with "special and important reasons" to run directly to the high court.

"The violations supposedly committed by ABS-CBN and Convergence are within the jurisdiction of administrative agencies," the network said, citing Congress, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), and the Philippine Competition Commission.

In particular, issues regarding foreign investment and control should be a matter for the corporate regulator to resolve, the media firm said, while the legality of the KBO service can be decided by the NTC.

RELATED: ABS-CBN did not commit violations – BIR, SEC

On ownership, the network said PDRs were not the same as shares of stock and do not accord its holders voting rights to control how the company is run. Instead, they only get cash distributions or dividends via ABS-CBN Holdings Corporation, a separate entity from the actual TV network.

Meanwhile, ABS-CBN rejected Calida's request for the high court to stop KBO Channel's operations. It compared KBO to the services of Netflix and Amazon Prime which are paid video streaming services run by foreigners but are available in the Philippines. These companies are not regulated by the NTC, the firm said.

The network said it has been broadcasting multiple channels using digital technology, which allowed ABS-CBN to operate six channels using just one frequency. It pointed out that the NTC allowed such a structure in May 2019.

The network added that it has been given the right to operate "for commercial purposes," which to them includes offering pay-per-view services. It argued that this was still public service as the KBO rate of ₱30 to ₱99 is cheaper than heading out and seeing movies in cinemas.

READ: ABS-CBN's alleged illegal KBO operation would only cost ₱200 fine per violation

"The Republic believes that ABS-CBN should use its assigned frequency only for its 'free-to-air' channel and for no other. It fails to appreciate that DTT enables the simultaneous transmission of several channels, both free-to-air and pay-per-view, using only one frequency," the company said. DTT refers to digital terrestrial television.

ABS-CBN also cautioned against the grant of the quo warranto, saying that this would have a "chilling effect" among media outlets. It added that there was no "substantive evil" to justify the closure of the network's broadcast.

Calida has also asked the SC to issue a gag order to stop both his office and any of ABS-CBN's representatives from discussing the merits of the pending case in public, saying that such statements could "pre-judge" the case and influence the decision of magistrates. Calida skipped the Senate hearing on the network's franchise on Monday, explaining in a letter than he does not want to violate this rule.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.