Quo warranto case filed against ABS-CBN

Jove Moya

(UPDATED) The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) on Monday, February 10, filed before the Supreme Court a quo warranto petition seeking to revoke the legislative franchise of television network ABS-CBN Corporation.

Solicitor General Jose Calida, in the petition, said the network and its subsidiary ABS-CBN Convergence Inc. have been broadcasting for a fee, which is beyond the scope of its legislative franchise.

"ABS-CBN abused the privilege granted by State when it launched and operated a pay-per-view channel in ABS-CBN TV Plus, the KBO Channel, without prior approval or permit from the National Telecommunications Commission. While it is true that broadcasting is a business, the welfare of the people must not be sacrificed in the pursuit of profit," Calida said in a statement.

The OSG likened the network's violation to that of Rappler when it supposedly issued Philippine Deposit Receipts (PDRs) through ABS-CBN Holdings Corporation to foreigners, violating the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership of mass media.

Under Section 11, Article 16 of the Philippine Constitution, the ownership and management of mass media must only be owned by citizens of the Philippines.

”This means that mass media companies operating in the Philippines must be 100 percent Filipino owned because they play an integral role in a nation's economic, political and socio-cultural landscape," Calida said.

"A franchise is a special privilege granted by the State, and should only be restricted to entities which faithfully adhere to our constitution and laws," he concluded.

In a statement, ABS-CBN said “all its broadcast offerings have the required regulatory approvals and are not prohibited by (our) franchise.”

The PDRs were also evaluated and approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) prior to its public offering.

“These are the same instruments used by other broadcast companies to raise capital for the improvement of services,” the network added.

The network’s stake in ABS-CBN Convergence was acquired “under the same law and structures that have been utilized by other telecommunications companies.”

“These are transfers that are approved under the Public Telecommunications Policy Act and are fully compliant with the law,” it added.

Some legislators earlier expressed their support for the renewal of the TV network’s franchise.

Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said the closure of ABS-CBN is a threat to press freedom.

“Press freedom is so much important and ABS-CBN is one of the pillars of press freedom in the country,” he said in a separate statement.

Senator Joel Villanueva also favored the renewal, saying that thousands of jobs are at stake if the network stops its operations.

"Thousands of jobs are at stake here, It is important that we take the measure up as soon as possible," he said.

Laguna Representative Sol Aragones, a former ABS-CBN reporter who authored a bill renewing the network’s franchise for another 25 years, said she was confident that Congress will be able to act on her measure before it adjourns on March 11, 2020.

She noted that there are 11 principal authors of the ABS-CBN franchise bill as well as several co-authors.

“It’s important to take into consideration the 11,000 employees of ABS-CBN and their families as well as the public who patronizes the network,” she said in a statement.

Deputy Speaker Salvador "Doy" Leachon, who filed House Bill 5608 seeking to renew ABS-CBN's franchise, said the revocation of a franchise is a matter within "the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress."

"If quo warranto is ploy or a means to oust us House members from that constitutional mandate, that is procedurally flawed," Leachon said.

"With the vast domain of Congress to inquire into almost all issues including the basis for which quo warranto was filed by Solgen, Congress itself can do that to simplify matters and findings thereon maybe considered whether franchise is legally compliant for renewal," he added.

The Deputy Speaker noted that the Congress must proceed with the hearing on the ABS-CBN application.

In a statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the filing of the quo warranto case against the TV network.

"This proves without a doubt that this government is hellbent on using all its powers to shut down the broadcast network whose franchise renewal, now pending in Congress," the group said.

The group called on the Congress and Supreme Court to prove that they are co-equal branches of government.

"We call on Congress and the Supreme Court to once and for all prove to the people that they are truly, as the Constitution envisions, independent--this not just about ABS-CBN. This is not just about the Philippine media. This is all about whether anyone can or should deprive you, the Filipino people, of your right to know," the group added. (SunStar Philippines)