MANILA- Several journalists denounced Monday a legal move to shut down ABS-CBN Corp by invalidating its franchise, even as they hailed the media conglomerate's role in nation-building.
Online news website Rappler, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP), and the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines backed ABS-CBN as Solicitor General Jose Calida sought to void the company's franchise via a "quo warranto" petition.
Rappler, in its statement, alleged that President Rodrigo Duterte's administration is "resorting to legal gymnastics to push their own agenda of silencing critical media."
"We at Rappler deplore the latest attempt by the Duterte administration to use the levers of state power to bring down a media company and silence Filipino journalists," it said.
"We stand with our colleagues at ABS-CBN and share the hope that they will weather this and come out even stronger," it added.
Both ABS-CBN and Rappler have been the subject of President Rodrigo Duterte's tirades.
In seeking to invalidate ABS-CBN's franchise, the government's top lawyer accused the company of "highly abusive practices."
ABS-CBN, however, insists it is compliant with all the laws governing its franchise and has secured necessary permits for its business operations.
"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 company said.
Like Rappler, ABS-CBN allegedly violated the Filipino ownership restriction when it issued Philippine Depositary Receipts to foreigners, the Calida complaint said. A depositary receipt gives its holder some benefits without giving stockholder status.
"These practices have gone unnoticed or were disregarded for years," the complaint alleges.
FOCAP, meanwhile, said moves to shut ABS-CBN down threaten a pillar of the country's media industry, describing it a "cornerstone of Philippine democracy and the free press."
"Our ABS-CBN colleagues have been on the frontlines of every major breaking news in the country. They have chronicled history, and continue to hold power to account," FOCAP said.
"We stand with ABS-CBN. We stand with press freedom."
The NUJP criticized Calida for confronting ABS-CBN reporter Mike Navallo during the filing of the quo warranto petition.
"Calida's boorishness is the classic example of a government factotum who mistakes his position of authority as a license to throw his weight around. It is behavior that, of course, echoes his principal," the organization said.
ABS-CBN has repeatedly been hit by Duterte for allegedly not airing a paid campaign ad before the 2016 presidential elections.
In December, Duterte urged the owners of ABS-CBN to just sell the company, saying he would "see to it that you're out."
Salvador Panelo, the spokesman of Duterte, reiterated Monday that developments pertaining to the broadcast franchise of ABS-CBN have nothing to do with the issue of freedom of the press.
He also claimed that Duterte is not involved in Calida's complaint.
ABS-CBN operates free TV Channel 2 and radio DZMM, while news.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.