Congress, SC urged to be independent in wake of SolGen petition vs ABS-CBN


Posted at Feb 10 2020 01:59 PM | Updated as of Feb 10 2020 05:37 PM

A press freedom advocate calls for the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN, at the ELJ Tower, Quezon City on Friday. Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) - A group of journalists on Monday urged Congress and the Supreme Court to act as independent and co-equal branches of government after President Rodrigo Duterte's top lawyer sought to revoke the franchise of ABS-CBN Corp. before the high court.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) urged journalists to close ranks behind their colleagues in ABS-CBN as it accused the Duterte administration as being "hellbent on using all its powers to shut down the broadcast network."

"We call on all Filipinos who cherish democracy to stand up and defend press freedom because this freedom belongs to you," NUJP said in a statement.

"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."

NUJP chairman Nonoy Espina earlier said the Office of the Solicitor General's (OSG) quo warranto petition was a "direct attack" on press freedom.

"If they can't stop Congress from acting on the bill, then the quo warranto petition is the way to go to at least stop it," he said. 

The University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication likened the OSG's move to attacks on press freedom during the martial rule of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

"In commemoration of another anniversary of EDSA 1 this coming Feb. 25, we call on the public to protect our fundamental right for information and a free press, support efforts to uphold the rule of law, and continue to hold truth and justice in high value," it said.

Human Rights Watch, in a statement, said the quo warranto petition was "clearly an attempt by the Duterte government to intimidate or control" ABS-CBN, which has aired and published critical reporting on the government."

"This case by the government’s chief lawyer underscores Duterte’s determination to shutter the network, in the same manner that he has gone after the news website Rappler for its critical reportage of the 'war on drugs,'" it said.

"Filipinos and advocates of press freedom should reject this move and assert their right to a free press."

Several lawmakers have also questioned the OSG's move, saying it "usurped" an exclusive power of Congress. The House of Representatives has yet to hear several bills seeking to renew the company's license to operate.

ABS-CBN said the OSG's allegations were "without merit." 

"ABS-CBN complies with all pertinent laws governing its franchise and has secured all necessary government and regulatory approvals for its business operations," it said.