Supreme Court defers discussion on case vs ABS-CBN to March 10

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The Supreme Court has postponed discussions on the case filed against ABS-CBN, which has been reset to March 10.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 26) — The Supreme Court has postponed discussions on the case filed against ABS-CBN on Wednesday, leaving the network free to dispute the allegations in public for at least two more weeks.

The high court did not act on the quo warranto case lodged by Solicitor General Jose Calida which seeks to nullify the network's existing franchise weeks ahead of its expiry. The topic was on the magistrates' agenda this week, but they did not make any move regarding the case.

READ: ABS-CBN franchise to expire on May 4, 2020 – DOJ

The ABS-CBN case would be tackled by the high court during its March 10 en banc session. "This is to give the justices time to go over the pleadings submitted by the parties, including the comments recently filed by the respondents," court spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said in a statement.

Calida on February 10 asked the SC to cancel ABS-CBN's legislative franchise, claiming the network committed "highly abusive practices" that violate the terms set by Congress when it started offering the pay-pe-view KBO channel and when it supposedly allowed foreign investors to control the company through the sale of investment tools.

The government's top lawyer also asked the court to issue a gag order against the Lopez-owned network, accusing that it "engaged in propaganda" after the case was filed. He said several video and online news reports released by the TV station meant to "elicit public sympathy," warning that these could influence the court's decision on the case. Calida said these violate the sub judice rule, which prohibits anyone from publicly assessing an ongoing case to avoid pre-judgment.

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

The media conglomerate filed its response on Monday, saying Calida was wrong in filing the complaint before the court. It noted that Congress, not the Judiciary, has the authority over the grant or cancellation of franchises given to media and utility companies. ABS-CBN said the supposed violations can be resolved by administrative agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Telecommunications Commission, and the Philippine Competition Commission.

ABS-CBN cautioned against the grant of the quo warranto as this would have a "chilling effect" on other media outlets reporting on the President and the government. It added there was no "substantive evil" to justify the closure of the network's broadcast.

The Kapamilya network has mantained that it did not violate the law. The media giant, however, apologized to President Rodrigo Duterte during a Senate hearing last Monday for airing a controversial ad against the former Davao City mayor during the 2016 campaign season.

Duterte has repeatedly ranted against the network, saying it failed to air his political advertisements for the 2016 elections. He made a vow that ABS-CBN would be out of business this year, even telling the Lopezes to just sell the company to a new owner just to stay on air.

ABS-CBN President and Chief Executive Officer Carlo Katigbak explained that the channel failed to air ₱7 million out of the ₱182 million worth of commercial spots which Duterte's camp bought in the last few days of the 2016 campaign period, citing the purchases came late.

TIMELINE: ABS-CBN franchise

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.

Law group Integrated Bar of the Philippines President Domingo Cayosa said the court needs a "good and complete understanding" of the facts and arguments raised by the camps of Calida and ABS-CBN before it can decide on the issue. However, the case could be rendered moot if a decision would be handed down after the network's franchise expires on May 4.

"Theoretically, kung hihigpitan talaga ay maaari pong mawalan sila (ABS-CBN) ng prangkisa at the time of the expiry date [Theoretically, ABS-CBN may lose its franchise when it expires if the government tightens the implementation of the law]," Cayosa told CNN Philippines' Balitaan.

"In terms of the law, it may be much better that ABS-CBN gets a legislative franchise before it expires or to get any other formal authority for the extension rather than just relying on the administrative extension by NTC (National Telecommunications Commission)," the head of the lawyers' group added. "It would be for the good of everyone, our country including, na maresolba na 'yan sa lalong madaling panahon."

A number of lawmakers have said the NTC can issue a provisional authority once ABS-CBN's franchise expires, given that there are pending bills that would grant the network another 25 years on air. These measures, however, are far from securing approval from the House of Representatives and the Senate. A joint resolution filed by Cebu City Representative Raul Del Mar last week seeks to extend the network's franchise until June 30, 2022 to give lawmakers more time to thresh out the issues faced by the network.