MANILA - A global watchdog on Tuesday slammed the Office of the Solicitor General's petition for gag order against ABS-CBN, saying it is "absurd on specious grounds."
The plea, which prohibits parties from releasing statements surrounding the quo warranto petition filed by the government's top legal counsel against the country's largest broadcast network, is "a clear case of adding insult to injury," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
"First, the government petitions to end the ABS-CBN franchise and now it is proposing to silence all critics with an absurd gag order on specious grounds," he said in a statement.
"Why is President [Rodrigo] Duterte and the Philippines government so scared of independent opinions and a free press?" Robertson added.
The watchdog called on the Supreme Court to uphold the principle of freedom of expression and rule against OSG's request.
In a "very urgent motion," the OSG on Tuesday asked the high court to issue a gag order against ABS-CBN, accusing the media giant of engaging in propaganda "in a clear attempt to elicit public sympathy, sway public opinion, and, ultimately, to influence the resolution of the case."
The OSG wants parties to uphold the sub-judice rule, which restricts comments and disclosures pertaining to judicial proceedings "to avoid prejudging the issue, influencing the court and obstructing the administration of justice."
It alleged the network violated the rule through its video reports and commentaries and statements of ABS-CBN artists and other personalities.
The SC gave ABS-CBN Corp and its unit ABS-CBN Convergence 5 days within notice to answer OSG's petition.
The OSG earlier asked the high court to invalidate franchises of ABS-CBN Corp and ABS-CBN Convergence citing alleged abuses, including supposed violations of restrictions on foreign ownership.
Responding to the quo warranto petition, ABS-CBN had said it "did not violate 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 in a statement.
ABS-CBN operates free TV Channel 2 and dzMM radio, while ABS-CBN Convergence is its telecom unit.
news.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.