GAG ORDER. This is what the Office of the Solicitor General has asked the Supreme Court the Philippines to issue against ABS-CBN Corp. after Sol. Gen Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition to forfeit the legislative franchises of the corporation and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc.

The gag order is intended to silence ABS-CBN and to infringe upon the freedom of speech and expression of its people, asking the highest court in a very urgent motion, “to prohibit “parties and persons acting on their [network’s] behalf” from releasing statements surrounding the quo warranto petition filed by OSG to invalidate its license.

The quo warrants were filed by Calida despite having 11 bills yet to be heard in Congress, deemed not a priority by House Speaker Allan Peter Cayetano, a staunch supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte.

This would have been the venue to hear all arguments for and against the issuance of ABS-CBN’s franchise to continue operating after the expiration date of March 30, 2020. This is pursuant to the due process as required by law.

Solicitor General Jose Calida files a quo warranto petition in the Supreme Court last February 10, seeking to forfeit the legislative franchises of ABS-CBN Corp. and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence Inc. | Inquirer.net photo by Grig Montegrande

But alas! Calida needed to go to the Supreme Court, with its justices mostly appointed by Duterte to get ahead of the decision of Congress to either renew the franchise or shutdown the 65-year-old broadcasting company.

The president himself openly said many times he would do everything to deny ABS-CBN the license to continue operating as a broadcasting company. He had been accusing the network of being biased against him for reporting news and airing documentaries and commentaries critical of him, his policies and programs.

Citing the need for due process as provided for by the law, ABS-CBN said, “The Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Executive Branch have assured the public that our franchise will be allowed to go through the proper renewal process in a fair manner. To that end, the filing of the quo warranto case is ill-timed given that Congress has already resumed its session.”

Senators asserted on Tuesday, February 18, “the authority of Congress to grant or revoke legislative franchises as the government’s top lawyer asked the Supreme Court to silence ABS-CBN and other parties concerned in the quo warranto petition it filed against the broadcasting firm,” as cited the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

As Rappler reported. Calida accused ABS-CBN of:

• Violating foreign ownership restrictions of the constitution through the use of Philippine Deposit Receipts or PDRs “like Rappler.”

• Engaging in “highly abusive practices benefitting a greedy few at the expense of millions of its loyal subscribers”

• Launching products ABS-CBN TV Plus, KBO Channel, allegedly without the necessary permits

ABS-CBN responded through a statement:

These allegations cited by the Office of the Solicitor General in his press statement are without merit. ABS-CBN complies with all pertinent laws governing its franchise and has secured all necessary government and regulatory approvals for its business operations.

(1) All our broadcast offerings, including KBO, have received the necessary government and regulatory approvals and are not prohibited by our franchise.

(2) ABS-CBN Holdings’ Philippine Deposit Receipts or PDRs were evaluated and approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Philippine Stock Exchange prior to its public offering. These are the same instruments used by other broadcast companies to raise capital for the improvement of services.

(3) The ownership of ABS-CBN in ABS-CBN Convergence was undertaken under the same law and structures that have been utilized by other telecommunications companies. These are transfers that are approved under the Public Telecommunications Policy Act and are fully compliant with law.

We reiterate that everything we do is in accordance with the law. We did not violate the law. This case appears to be an attempt to deprive Filipinos of the services of ABS-CBN.

ABS-CBN further explained in a report by Rappler:

“These are the same instruments used by other broadcast companies to raise capital for the improvement of services,” ABS-CBN said. “The capital we have raised from the PDRs has enabled us to provide services to nearly 90% of the Philippines and to our OFW’s all over the world.”

The network also insisted that its broadcast offerings like KBO received necessary government and regulatory approvals and are not prohibited by the franchise.

ABS-CBN also defended its ownership of ABS-CBN Convergence, saying that it was undertaken under the same law and structures that have been utilized by other telecommunications companies.

Business entities, coalitions of journalists in the Philippines and around the world, human rights advocates, media employees and personalities from other networks and media organizations, the regulatory body the Kapisanan ng mag Broadcaster sa Pilipinas, and ordinary citizens have thrown their support for ABS-CBN to protect press freedom.

And how will the offer of Duterte to ABS-CBN factor in looking at the big picture, especially in light of the need for a free and independent press in a democracy as protected by the Constitution, the fourth estate and watchdog of the government?

“Kung magtulong kayo diyan sa federal system campaign at gawain ninyong slogan also for the unity and to preserve the republic, makipag-areglo ako (If you can help with the federal system campaign and you make a slogan also for unity and to preserve the republic, I’ll make amends with you),” Duterte was quoted by a Rappler report during the PDP-Laban Christmas Benefit Dinner on Wednesday night, December 13, 2019.

As the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines states, “Section 4. No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

FIGHT FOR DUE PROCESS. Protect press freedom!

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Gel Santos Relos has been in news, talk, public service and educational broadcasting since 1989 with ABS-CBN and is now serving the Filipino audience using different platforms, including digital broadcasting, and print, and is working on a new public service program for the community. You may contact her through email at gelrelos@icloud.com, or send her a message via Facebook at Facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos.

Gel Santos Relos
Gel Santos Relos

Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com and www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos

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