OSG to ABS-CBN: Quo warranto filed to ‘correct public wrong’

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 27)— ABS-CBN has commented on the Solicitor General’s quo warranto plea to revoke the media giant’s franchise, and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) answered back with a 71-page consolidated reply.

For the OSG, the quo warranto petition filed against ABS-CBN is not a move to restrain press freedom, but an action “to correct a public wrong” brought about by the violations committed by the network.

The OSG commented on the reply of the broadcast media giant to the quo warranto plea that was filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida on February 10, moving to forfeit the conglomerate's television franchise.

According to ABS-CBN’s reply submitted to the Supreme Court, the allegations of the government’s top lawyer were unfounded.

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

Is this a move to curtail the freedom of expression and of the press?

Among the many points raised by the media company is the “chilling effect” that the petition will cause once it is granted. The revocation of the media company’s franchise will “amount to a curtailment of the freedom of speech and of the press,” according to ABS-CBN.

But OSG said that this is “far-fetched” and “unfounded,” pointing out that a franchise is a privilege from the State, and it is "subject to regulation by the State itself."

The petition for quo warranto is filed to “correct a public wrong,” the OSG argued.

ABS-CBN also said that Calida’s quo warranto plea was misplaced, saying that the Congress has the authority to revoke their legislative franchise and not the high court.

Moreover, 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 media company.

ABS-CBN argued that the issuance of a gag order will “allegedly impair the people’s right to information on matters of public concern.”

But the office of the government’s top lawyer said that the petitioned gag order only “seeks to restrict comments and disclosures” pertaining to pending court proceedings to “avoid prejudging the issue.”

Another point of concern that was initially raised by the television network and certain legal experts is the place where the petition should accordingly be filed.

READ: SC the wrong place for complaint vs ABS-CBN – legal expert

Is the SC the right place to hear the case?

The OSG reply, citing what it called the high court's "transcendental importance" in relation to public interest, argued that the case is of paramount importance to public interest.

ABS-CBN’s case, the OSG said, is of transcendental importance because the franchise “mandates it to serve the public by its broadcast operations.” It added that as the biggest broadcasting entity, the company has shaped the public’s opinion on various issues.

ABS-CBN also argued that “the violations supposedly committed by ABS-CBN and Convergence are within the jurisdiction of administrative agencies.” These agencies include The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the Philippine Competition Commission, and the Congress.

The OSG further said that the issues raised in the petition are "purely legal, therefore a regular court of law has jurisdiction on the matter." There is also a “misuse and abuse” of special privileges, the OSG said.


On PDRs and foreign ownership

ABS-CBN also explained that Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) are not the same as shares of stock and do not accord holders voting rights to control how the company is run. Instead, holders just get cash distributions or dividends through ABS-CBN Holdings Corporation, a separate entity from the actual TV network.

But the OSG’s reply stated that ABS-CBN failed to dispute the facts of the petition, insisting on its stand that ABS-CBN’s issuance of PDRs through ABS-CBN Holdings Corporation violates the foreign ownership restriction of mass media according to Section 11, Article XVI of the Constitution.

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