A petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida calling for the termination of ABS-CBN’s franchise is an abuse of his position and represents a threat to every media outlet in the country, Vice President Leni Robredo said today in a statement.
Calida showed up personally at the Supreme Court yesterday to file the petition, which accused the media company of violating the terms set by Congress when it granted its license in 1995. He alleged that ABS-CBN issued Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) to foreigners, a violation of constitutional regulations on foreign ownership of media companies. He also sought to have Kapamilya Box Office (KBO), a cable pay-per-view channel owned by ABS-CBN, suspended.
In her statement, Robredo characterized the petition as an attack on press freedom.
“We should watch over the efforts to have ABS-CBN’s franchise canceled because this is all about [the misuse of] power,” she said in Filipino. “Who has the right to say what is true and important? If the government takes over this right, they are also taking over our right to know what is true. Let’s be clear on this: what’s happening is not the right process to renew a franchise. This is harassment, one that fulfills the agenda of who is in power. Therefore, this is an abuse of power.”
“We should ask: If this is being done on the most powerful network in our country, this can also be done on smaller networks, on newspapers and radio stations, even on our social media feeds, as a way [for the government] to dictate to us what is true and important.”
Last night, ABS-CBN issued a statement rejecting Calida’s accusations and saying they did not violate any laws.
“The Office of the Solicitor General’s accusations, which were written on their press statement, have no basis. ABS-CBN follows the law in connection with our franchise, and our operation was approved by the respective government agencies,” the statement said in Filipino.
The company said their franchise was approved by the government and that their PDRs were studied by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Philippine Stock Exchange before being sold to investors.
“We reiterate that everything that ABS-CBN does is in accordance with the law. We did not violate the law. This case is an effort to deprive Filipinos of ABS-CBN’s service,” they added, warned that the network will close if Calida succeeds.
Indeed, if Calida succeeds, it would be the second time ABS-CBN has been shut down due to politics. In September 1972, after dictator President Ferdinand Marcos announced the imposition of martial law, ABS-CBN was seized by the government and was handed over to Roberto Benedicto, a crony. Then-ABS-CBN President Geny Lopez was imprisoned but escaped and spent several years in exile in the United States, returning to the Philippines only after Marcos was booted out of power in 1986.
Prior to Calida’s filing, President Rodrigo Duterte had repeatedly said in public that he will block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise because the company allegedly failed to air his campaign ad in 2016, despite accepting payment for it. He has also accused them of running “slanted” stories that painted him in an unflattering light.
Duterte has the power to veto the franchise in the case that Congress decides to renew it, but House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has admitted that he too has “personal objections” to granting ABS-CBN a new license, claiming the company interfered in the 2016 elections.
Should ABS-CBN shut down, it would affect 6,730 regular workers, 900 contract workers, and 3,325 on-air “talents.”