Supreme Court asks ABS-CBN to comment on franchise challenge

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 11 2020 12:44 PM | Updated as of Feb 11 2020 03:51 PM

ABS-CBN Broadcasting Center, Sgt Esguerra, Diliman, Quezon City. Photo taken on February 11, 2020. Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The Supreme Court has given ABS-CBN Corp and one of its subsidiaries 10 days to comment on a petition seeking to nullify their franchises, the high court's spokesperson said Tuesday.

SC spokesperson Brian Hosaka said the order to comment also referred to the Office of the Solicitor General's plea for the issuance of a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction against ABS-CBN's movie channel Kapamilya Box Office. 

Solicitor General Jose Calida, in a very urgent omnibus motion, asked the high court to assign the case to the en banc, give ABS-CBN Corp and its subsidiary ABS-CBN Convergence only 5 days to comment on the petition, and hold oral arguments on March 3

Calida had claimed in a quo warranto petition that ABS-CBN violated the constitutional ban against foreign ownership and went “beyond the scope of its legislative franchise” for “broadcasting for a fee.” 

ABS-CBN had said it obtained government approval for its operations, as shown in an opinion by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra. 

ABS-CBN sources said the case was assigned to Associate Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier.

The House of Representatives has yet to act on several bills seeking to renew the company's license to operate, which expires on March 30. Meanwhile, ABS-CBN Convergence's franchise expires on June 30, 2022. 

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly pledged he would stop the broadcast operations of ABS-CBN, which drew his anger for allegedly refusing to air his campaign ad during the 2016 presidential campaign. 

Several rights monitors like Reporters Without Borders and FORUM-Asia earlier urged Philippine lawmakers to renew ABS-CBN's franchise and stand for press freedom. 

ABS-CBN, whose news and entertainment shows reach tens of millions of Filipinos online and via TV and radio, said it "did not violate the law."

"This case appears to be an attempt to deprive Filipinos of the services of ABS-CBN," the broadcaster said in a statement. 

Advocates said the government move was the latest attack on press freedom under Duterte, who has already tangled with a top newspaper and a website.

"We must not allow the vindictiveness of one man, no matter how powerful, to run roughshod over the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of the press," said the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

Journalist Maria Ressa faces years behind bars in a case that she and press advocates say was retaliation for the journalism of her website Rappler. 

Duterte taunted the network in a speech in December, telling the owners to sell it.

"ABS-CBN, your contract is about to expire. If I were you, you're better off selling it," Duterte said. 

"I will make sure that you will remember this episode of our times forever."

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte was not involved in the petition.

"It's Congress that has the authority to grant or to renew, not the president," he said. 
 
With a report from Agence France-Presse