MANILA (UPDATED) - Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas on Tuesday said he was praying for the renewal of ABS-CBN Corp's franchise, which the government's top lawyer has sought to nullify.
"Isa ako sa mga nanalangin na ang prangkisa ng ABS-CBN ay ma-renew," said Villegas, former president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.
"Inaangkin ko na akin ‘yon... I cannot see a society without ABS-CBN," he added.
(I am one of those praying for the renewal of ABS-CBN's franchise. I am already claiming it.)
Solicitor General Jose Calida asked the Supreme Court to revoke ABS-CBN's franchise, citing several violations. The House of Representatives franchise committee has not opened hearings on several bills seeking its renewal.
ABS-CBN, whose news and entertainment shows reach tens of millions of Filipinos online and via TV and radio, had said it "did not violate the law."
"We reiterate that everything we do is in accordance with the law... This case appears to be an attempt to deprive Filipinos of the services of ABS-CBN," the network said in a statement.
The government should defend the freedoms of expression and the press, said Manila archdiocese administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo.
"Hindi dapat pigilin ang press. Ito’y isang paraan para magkaroon ng transparency sa gobyerno. Kailangan magkaroon ng tulong sa mga tao na magdesisyon kapag alam nila 'yung mga pangyayari," he told ABS-CBN News.
(The press should not be suppressed. This is a way to have transparency in government. The public also needs to get help in decision-making by knowing current events.)
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.
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.
Villegas, a critic of Duterte's drug war, was accused last year of sedition and libel over his alleged involvement with several viral videos that linked the President and his family to the narcotics trade.
The justice department junked the case against Villegas and 5 other priests this week.
"Alam namin na lahat ng tagubilin namin ay aalagaan ng Diyos," Villegas said.
(We know that God will take care of us.)
With reports from Cris Zuniga and Abner Mercado, ABS-CBN News