Media law expert says ABS-CBN shutdown will be 'a dark day for country'


Posted at Feb 11 2020 01:25 PM | Updated as of Feb 11 2020 01:43 PM

Media practitioners and supporters hold a rally in Quezon City to denounce Solicitor General Jose Calida's filing of a case at the Supreme Court asking for the cancelation of ABS CBN's franchise, February 10, 2020. Maria Tan, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - A media law expert on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to act judiciously on the quo warranto petition seeking to void ABS-CBN's franchise, saying the network's shutdown would be "a very dark day" for the country.

On ANC's Headstart, lawyer Marichu Lambino, an expert on media law and ethics at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, stressed that the right to a free press is vital to the nation.

"We hope that the Supreme Court acts judiciously and follows all the precedents on whether or not it can repeal a legislative franchise, or whether or not it should exercise the administrative regulation reposed upon the National Telecommunications Commission," said Lambino.

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"The nation will not survive a single day without a free and independent press," she said.

On Monday, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN Corp and ABS-CBN Convergence, citing supposed "abuses" in their franchises. 

"The filing of the quo warranto was resorted to because it can be fast, it can be granted in a quick manner, or it can be granted in a judicious manner depending on the Supreme Court," said Lambino.

Lambino believes it is highly probable that Congress would not act on the network's franchise issue because they are going on recess on March 11.

ABS-CBN Corp's franchise is due to expire by the end of March, while its subsidiary, which runs movie channel Kapamilya Box Office, will have its franchise lapse by June 30, 2022. 

Several bills are pending in Congress for the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise, but no panel hearings have been set. President Rodrigo Duterte has several times expressed his opposition to allowing the network to continue airing. 

"I think it's very frightening when that day comes when we will just see a no signal. It would just be a very dark day for this country when that happens," she said.

She added: "We need ABS-CBN to be there when we are all sleeping and your reporters are awake watching the world for us, watching if there are super typhoons, if there are disasters, if the world is going to crack open. We need ABS-CBN there."

House Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel earlier cited 2 different legal experts' views on whether or not ABS-CBN could still air its programs if its franchise is not renewed.

"Based on experience, there have been some franchisees that have been able to operate in spite of the expiration of their franchise and these are small telcos, local telcos, small radio station," Pimentel said.

But Pimentel stressed that ABS-CBN's case is different. 

"We know very well that the President has been very vocal, has made some pronouncements that he does not want ABS-CBN to be renewed," he said.

He said the network couldn’t do anything if the NTC orders it to stop airing its programs.
Lambino added that based on practice, the NTC grants a grace period.

"But if there are orders from higher ups, we might see darkness on March 31," she said.

Malacañang on Monday said the President's verbal attacks against ABS-CBN Corp. is not related to the filing of the quo warranto petition against the network.

But Lambino believes otherwise.

"The pronouncement of the president is policy, so it’s going to be followed by government officials," Lambino said.