Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a petition this morning to ask the Supreme Court to declare embattled media giant ABS-CBN’s franchise void, barely a month before it is set to expire.
Rappler reported that Calida showed up at the Court himself at 9am to file the petition, which came with the heading “Very Urgent Omnibus Motion” written in bold letters. When asked if it was meant to revoke the broadcasting company’s franchise, Calida answered, “Yes.”
Calida’s motion alleges that ABS-CBN violated the terms set by Congress when it granted its license in 1995, CNN Philippines reports. The petition was against ABS-CBN Corporation and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence Inc., which operates ABS-CBN TV Plus.
In a statement, Calida said, “We want to put an end to what we discovered to be highly abusive practices of ABS-CBN benefitting a greedy few at the expense of millions of its loyal subscribers. These practices have gone unnoticed or were disregarded for years.”
He alleged that ABS-CBN, like Rappler, was foreign-owned, a violation of the constitution.
“Like Rappler, ABS-CBN had issued Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDR) through ABS-CBN Holdings Corporation to foreigners, in violation of the foreign ownership restriction on mass media in the Constitution,” he said.
American company Omidyar Network had invested in Rappler, a news website, through PDRs, which the Philippines’ Securities and Exchange Commission said constitutes foreign ownership. In 2018, however, Omidyar donated these PDRs to the site’s Filipino managers.
Calida did not provide a copy of the petition to reporters who showed up in Court. After he filed the petition, he had a confrontation with ABS-CBN reporter Mike Navallo, a lawyer and the one responsible for breaking the story about how Calida’s office allegedly helped a controversial witness in 2019 accuse several opposition politicians of sedition.
As Calida was about to leave the Court and enter his car, he told Navallo, “You’re always hitting me [in your stories]. You’re also a lawyer.”
Navallo responded, “No sir, I’m just doing my job, it’s a story.”
“You should just practice [law]. I’ll see you in court,” Calida said.
A controversial figure, Calida was the government official responsible for filing a petition against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, an appointee of former President Benigno Aquino III, which eventually led to her ouster.
Prior to Calida’s filing, President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said in public that he will block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise because the company allegedly failed to air his campaign ad in 2016, despite accepting payment for it. He also accused them of running “slanted” stories that painted him in an unflattering light.
Duterte has the power to veto the franchise in the case that Congress decides to renew it, but House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has admitted that he has “personal objections” to granting ABS-CBN a new license because the company allegedly interfered in the 2016 elections.
Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo quickly distanced Duterte from Calida’s petition and said this morning that the president does not involve himself in the work of his underlings.
Panelo said in an interview with radio station DZMM (which coincidentally, is owned by ABS-CBN), “The president does not meddle with the work of heads of departments and offices. He always says, ‘let the law take its course.'”
Should ABS-CBN shut down, it will affect 6,730 regular workers, 900 contract workers, and 3,325 on-air “talents.” The National Union of Journalists (NUJP) has been organizing weekly protests to urge the government to renew ABS-CBN’s license. The organization also started an online petition with the same objective, and it has almost 173,000 signatures as of today.
The NUJP issued a statement this morning to call out the government for what Calida has done. Referring to Duterte, it said, “We must not allow the vindictiveness of one man, no matter how powerful, to run roughshod over the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of the press and of expression, and the people’s right to know.”
“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 and co-equal branches of government that are not at the beck and call of the executive,” it added.
“This is 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.”
This article, Solicitor General Calida asks Supreme Court to declare ABS-CBN’s franchise void, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!