ABS-CBN asks Supreme Court to stop shutdown order

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 7) — ABS-CBN sought relief from the Supreme Court on Thursday in a bid to nullify a regulatory body's order that forced it to go off the air.

In its 46-page petition for certiorari and prohibition, the embattled network asked the Supreme Court to declare "null and void" the cease and desist order issued by the National Telecommunications Commission on Tuesday.

Pending the proceedings, ABS-CBN pleaded for a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction "to prevent grave and irreparable injury" to the network and its employees, estimated to be around 11,000.

ABS-CBN said it is losing ₱30 million to ₱35 million every day that it is off air.

The media giant stressed that the NTC "materially and substantially invaded ABS-CBN's right" to due process, equal protection of the laws, and freedom of speech.

"The NTC violated ABS-CBN's right to due process by issuing the order without any prior notice or hearing and by ignoring the serious and irreparable damage that the CDO will inflict on ABS-CBN and thousands of its employees," ABS-CBN said in its petition.

It added there was "no urgent or paramount necessity" for it to stop broadcasting, noting that the NTC mentioned no grounds in its order aside from the expiration of its franchise last Monday.

"On the contrary, it is the closure of ABS-CBN that will cause serious and irreparable damage not only to ABS-CBN, but more importantly to the public interest," ABS-CBN said.

ABS-CBN said its forced closure also violated the public's right to information, and is a curtailment of the freedom of speech and of the press, which are all more crucial than ever amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The government may also be taking a hit, since ABS-CBN is a significant source of tax revenues. In the past three years, it remitted at least ₱14.3 billion, the media giant said.

"The CDO affects not only ABS-CBN or its employees, but also the Government and the public given the loss of a significant source of tax revenue as well as closure of one of the leading providers of news and entertainment. These roles are vital, particularly at the moment, when the country is faced with a pandemic," ABS-CBN said.

Why run to the high court?

The Lopez-owned network is asking the high court to rule whether there was grave abuse of discretion on the part of the NTC, an issue which officials such as Minority Leader Franklin Drilon have alleged. He is calling for the dismissal of the NTC commissioners, while House Minority Leader Benny Abante wants the body abolished.

The network justified going directly to the Supreme Court, saying its petition "only seeks a resolution of questions of law, not of facts." It added that running to the Court of Appeals would take more time, when it needs to get back on air immediately.

The Supreme Court's ruling will also establish jurisprudence, ABS-CBN said, noting that NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba himself admitted that the body had never shuttered a broadcast company in the past due to an expired franchise.

Other media entities were allowed to operate while their franchise renewal bids were pending.

"There is no reason why the same practice should not be applied to ABS-CBN," the network said.

"The NTC's bad faith, malice, and underhandedness are simply choking and abhorrent," it added. It recalled how the regulatory body earlier promised to grant the network provisional authority to operate as advised by the Department of Justice and as requested by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

ABS-CBN acknowledged, however, that the NTC made a decision "with a threat hanging over its head." On the eve of the expiration of the network's franchise, Solicitor General Jose Calida warned NTC officials they may be charged with graft for allowing it to continue operating without a legislative franchise.

"Under such climate, the NTC's impartiality is at best seriously suspect," ABS-CBN said.

ABS-CBN's shutdown hogged international headlines as more than 11,000 media workers lost their jobs while the world is battling COVID-19, which has infected more than 3.7 million people globally.

It was heavily criticized as an attack on press freedom, since President Rodrigo Duterte had publicly threatened ABS-CBN over the network's refusal to carry his campaign commercials in 2016.

Duterte earlier accepted an apology from ABS-CBN. His spokesperson, Harry Roque said Duterte is "completely neutral" on ABS-CBN's franchise renewal, and the lawmakers should decide on it without worrying about what the President would feel.

The House leadership has not made a comment amid calls for it to tackle pending bills seeking to grant ABS-CBN a fresh 25-year franchise.