MANILA - The Philippines’ top lawyer, who is seeking to shut down and gag ABS-CBN Corp, has been asked to appear on Monday before a Senate committee looking to jumpstart deliberations on the franchise renewal of the country’s biggest media network.
Solicitor General Jose Calida’s participation will be “crucial” given questions he raised in a quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN Corp and its telecommunications subsidiary, said Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate public services committee.
Calida also asked the Supreme Court to issue a gag order on ABS-CBN, a move seen by media and human rights groups as an effort to clamp down on press freedom.
“We would like our hearings to remain balanced so we want to get the opinion of both sides,” Poe told ABS-CBN News in a phone interview.
Should Calida opt not to discuss the merits of his quo warranto petition against the network, Poe said the committee could still gather information from other resource persons.
“Wala pa naman akong confirmation. Basta maganda sana kung makakapunta sya,” she said.
(There’s no confirmation yet. But it would be good if he could attend.)
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Thursday criticized the planned Senate hearing, insisting that franchise bills must emanate from the House of Representatives.
Poe said the inquiry would not violate the constitution because her committee would not release a report.
At least 11 bills in favor of a new 25-year franchise for ABS-CBN remain stuck in the House committee on legislative franchises. Cayetano has said the matter is "not that urgent."
“We’d like to know directly from the concerned agencies that ABS-CBN would be granted an extension to operate while their bill is still pending in both houses,” the senator said.
Poe’s guest list includes officials of the Department of Justice and the National Telecommunications Commission.
Also invited were ABS-CBN executives and representatives of other broadcast networks, whose franchises had been extended pending renewal.
Poe said an assurance that ABS-CBN would not close down after its franchise ends on March 30 will keep its 11,000 employees from “panicking.”
Poe acknowledged that she pushed the committee hearing to an earlier date “to assure our resource persons that we are within the comfortable period wherein there’s not been a Supreme Court opinion yet on the matter.”
“That’s also partly true since there might be a gag order issued then we can never be sure about the decision of the Supreme Court, although we respect it,” she said.
The high court had on Tuesday given ABS-CBN 5 days to respond to Calida’s “very urgent motion” to stop the broadcast network, including its celebrities, from speaking on the quo warranto case.