“…to reject this crude request and we call on members of parliament to immediately renew the ABS-CBN franchise in a spirit of respect for the separation of powers and freedom of the press, as required by the Philippines’ 1987 constitution.”
By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA– Local and international organizations have thrown out their support to the ABS-CBN’s struggle to continue operations.
On Feb. 10, the Office of the Solicitor General filed a quo warranto petition against broadcasting giant, ABS-CBN as well as its subsidiary ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc.
In the 63-page quo warranto petition filed before the Supreme Court, the OSG accuses the network of ‘unlawfully exercising their legislative franchise’ and urges the High Court to revoke ABS-CBN’s networking franchise.
In response, ABS-CBN said in its official statement that they “did not violate the law,” adding that the filing of the petition is Solicitor General Jose Calida’s effort to shutdown the network,as well as the thousands of Filipinos working in the company.
The ABS-CBN maintained that the claims Calida made were without merit, and all their broadcast offerings have received the necessary government and regulatory approval and are not prohibited by their franchise.
The network also answered Calida’s accusation of foreign funding through ABS-CBN’s Philippine Deposit Receipts, and said that the PDRs have been used by other broadcast companies to improve their services.
“We reiterate that everything we do is in accordance with the law. We did not violate the law. This case appears to be an attempt to deprive Filipinos of the services of ABS-CBN.”
The network also said that they have no issue with tax payment.
The Bureau of Internal Revenue even recognized the broadcasting station as one of the top 200 non-individual taxpayers in the country, having paid over P70.5 billion worth of taxes in the past 17 years.
Following the protest action led by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines last Friday, various groups issued statements condemning Solicitor General Jose Calida’s move as “an attack on press freedom.”
The Freedom for Media Freedom for All, a consortium of Philippine media organizations, said “the attempt to close down ABS-CBN is a direct attack against the shared freedom of all citizens, for silencing the network is similar to depriving the Filipino citizens of their source of news and information.”
The coalition also called for a ‘collective front’ from the Filipino people who believe that the press should remain autonomous in a democratic country like the Philippines.
In a statement, Reporters Without Borders has called on Supreme Court justices “to reject this crude request and we call on members of parliament to immediately renew the ABS-CBN franchise in a spirit of respect for the separation of powers and freedom of the press, as required by the Philippines’ 1987 constitution.”
Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, also questioned Calida’s motive in filing the petition. “It’s either Jose Calida had told the truth; and also casually admitting his incompetence by failing to call out these ‘abusive practices’ when he assumed position in 2016, or the SolGen had told a lie purely for political fabrication and as a way to pressure the network,” he said.
In the same vein, Carlos Conde of the Human Rights Watch said that the OSG’s action ‘has all the indication of political harassment.’ “President Duterte has not made secret his displeasure toward ABS-CBN and has expressed his intention to shut it down,” he said.
He also said that the petition filing had placed undue pressure on the legislators.
Eleven bills in support of the ABS-CBN’s franchise are pending with the House Committee on Legislative Franchises.
Conde noted that some legislators have stated that this could jeopardize the franchise renewal, which ends March 30.
Meanwhile, Isabela 1st District Rep. Antonio Albano, who is also the vice-chair of the Committee on Legislative Franchises, said that the network can still operate even if its renewal is not granted after its expiration.
Albano said that the network’s services will not be terminated until the end of the 18th Congress.
Echoing Albano’s reassurance, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that as long as there are bills filed, the franchis is deemed extended as long. “As there’s no hearing, it could extend until the end of the 18th Congress,” Sotto said.
Sotto added that the quo warranto filed by the SolGen would not affect the current bills filed seeking for the network’s franchise renewal, and even added that ABS-CBN can ask the permission of the National Telecommunications Commission for an extension.
NUJP announced that it would continue to urge the Congress for action until the bills for the network’s franchise renewal are heard.