The government’s top lawyer has asked the Supreme Court to issue a gag order against ABS-CBN Corp. to restrain it from making public statements about the quo warranto petition he filed seeking to nullify the broadcast giant’s franchise.
In his motion, Solicitor General Jose Calida said ABS-CBN and its subsidiary ABS-CBN Convergence Inc. were “engaged in propaganda” and violated the sub judice rule by publicly commenting on a pending case.
In its en banc session, the Supreme Court ordered ABS-CBN Corp. and its subsidiary to comment on Calida’s motion within five days, court spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka said.
In his motion, Calida cited four instances that ABS-CBN allegedly violated the sub judice rule.
He mentioned three reports—which he called “videos”—that “directly tackle the allegations of the subject petition for quo warranto”; featured interviews from students “eliciting from them biased answers in favor of ABS-CBN Corporation”; and “justified” the operation of the Kapamilya Box Office (KBO) channel, respectively.
KBO is a movie channel on ABS-CBN TV Plus, the broadcast network’s digital TV service.
Calida had sought a temporary restraining order against KBO, claiming that ABS-CBN violated its legislative franchise and had no permit from the National Telecommunications Commission when it launched the channel.
The Court has not issued a TRO but ordered ABS-CBN to comment on Calida’s quo warranto petition.
Calida said the ABS-CBN “commentaries… tend to prejudge the case and influence the Supreme Court.”
“Any grievances must be ventilated through the proper petitions, motions, or other pleadings before the courts. Our courts must be able to conduct their business in an orderly manner free from outside interference and influence,” Calida said.
In his petition for quo warranto filed last week, Calida asked the Court to forfeit the franchises of the media giant for violating its franchise and the Constitution.
The Solicitor General accused the ABS-CBN of abusing its privilege granted by the state when it launched and operated the pay per view channel without prior approval or permit from the National Telecommunications Commission.
It also alleged the company had issued Philippine Depository Receipts to foreigners, thus violating constitutional limits on foreign ownership of mass media.
In its first public statement, ABS-CBN debunked Calida’s allegations, saying the television and entertainment giant “complies with all the pertinent laws governing its franchise.”
It said the quo warranto case was an effort to shut down their operations.
ABS-CBN also said that PDRs issued by ABS-CBN Holdings were “evaluated and approved” by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Philippine Stock Exchange prior to public offering, noting other broadcast companies used them “to raise capital for the improvement of services.”
ABS-CBN said all its broadcast offerings, including KBO, have received the necessary government and regulatory approvals and are not prohibited by its franchise.
ABS-CBN’s ownership in ABS-CBN Convergence, the company said, was “undertaken under the same law and structures that have been utilized by other telecommunications companies.”
The ownership transfer was approved under the Public Telecommunications Policy Act and “fully compliant with law,” it said.
“KBO remains one of the cheapest forms of entertainment that we can provide to the public,” ABS-CBN said.
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said he would oppose ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal after it expires in March, complaining of the network’s supposed failure to air a campaign ad that he paid for before the 2016 presidential election.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Tuesday said Calida’s petition for a gag order would not stop the Senate from requiring persons to appear before hearings on the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise.
The Supreme Court, he said, cannot prohibit persons from appearing and testifying before congressional inquiries in aid of legislation.
“The petition cannot prevent the Senate from hearing the issues on ABS-CBN. The petition has no effect on the Senate,” Drilon said.
Senator Grace Poe, chair of the Senate public services committee, said their hearing will push through.
Poe’s committee set the hearing on Feb. 27, but she said it can be scheduled earlier.
The Palace backed Calida’s call for a gag order, saying the case has become “emotional.”
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo also dismissed suggestions that the case was an attack on press freedom.
He also reiterated the Palace stand that Duterte did not order the quo warranto petition.
“The President’s utterances on his personal displeasure with ABS-CBN and his statement that he will see to it that ABS-CBN will be shut down should not be taken literally. What he meant is he will not allow ABS-CBN to be committing fraud against those who contracted them to air campaign commercials,” Panelo said.
The Palace official also said that President Duterte will not use his office to stop ABS-CBN’s operations.
“If ABS-CBN has committed a criminal act, then the President will exercise his right and pursue a case against it before the courts. But he will not use his office to stop ABS-CBN from continuing with its service,” he said.
But the labor group Defend Jobs Philippines slammed Calida’s petition for a gag order as yet another attempt to curtail press freedom.
“Calida’s quo warranto and gag order petitions to the Supreme Court were clear attempts to silence the media twice over,” said Thadeus Ifurung, Defend Jobs Philippines spokesperson.
“These two petitions must be junked by the High Court immediately as this is in violation of the Filipino people’s right to information and the media network’s press freedom,” he said. With Willie Casas