MANILA – ABS-CBN broadcasting network is now in danger of losing its license to operate if it cannot renew its franchise, which is about to expire on March 30 this year.
Unless Congress grants ABS-CBN a franchise renewal for another 25 years, with the approval of President Rodrigo Duterte, then it will be closed as a media network with about 11,000 talents and employees about to lose their jobs.
At this point though, the network is facing—ahead of its franchise renewal forthcoming bid in Congress—a bigger battle in the Supreme Court where Solicitor General Jose Calida filed on Monday a quo warranto petition seeking the nullification of the firm’s legislative franchise for alleged violation of the Constitution.
Calida accused the broadcasting firm of allowing foreign investors to take part in its ownership by issuing Philippine Deposit Receipts through ABS-CBN Holdings Corp.
Under the 1987 Constitution, mass media ownership is limited to Filipinos. “This simply means that mass media companies operating in the Philippines must be 100 percent Filipino-owned because they play and integral role in the nation’s economic, political, and socio-political landscape,” Calida said.
Calida added the broadcasting firm “abused” the privilege granted by the State when it launched and operated a pay-per-view channel in ABS-CBN TV Plus, the KBO Channel, without prior approval or permission from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).
“While it is true that broadcasting is a business, the welfare of the people must not be sacrificed in the pursuit of profit,” Calida said. He added that ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc. resorted to an “ingenious corporate layering scheme” in order to transfer its franchise without the necessary congressional approval.
Among other claims, Calida also cried foul over the firm’s acquisition of Amcara, which is presently ABS-CBN Sports and Action. “The temerity of ABS-CBN Corporation to monopolize the frequencies or airwaves of the State can be readily seen from its investment in Amcara, another broadcasting company holding a legislative franchise under RA 8135,” he said.
In his 63-page quo warranto petition at SC, Calida also bared other detailed accusations against ABS-CBN Corp. “The government is being hoodwinked as it is made to believe that the finite and limited spectrum had been allocated to those that are worthy to be accorded the privilege, when in truth it is only being utilized by one corporation,” he argued.
While the High Court already asked ABS-CBN to present its arguments against Calida’s petition, Malacañang said on Thursday that, in the event the embattled network loses the legal battle and Congress fails to renew the franchise, it has the option to apply for a new license to operate.
“That’s why they have application for new franchise. That’s the whole point,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo told Palace reporters.
Panelo said Calida’s move was “sensible and logical.” He said, “That’s his (Calida) job. What if someone, other than Calida, found that ABS-CBN made a violation? Calida would face a complaint for the dereliction of duty. So he will be on the defensive side. He’s just doing his duty,” he said.
On Wednesday, Panelo told Congress to set aside Duterte’s “displeasure” against ABS-CBN. Panelo made his comment after House legislative franchises vice chairperson and Isabela Rep. Antonio Albano admitted the tiff between Duterte and ABS-CBN gives pressure to congressmen.
Albano on Thursday confirmed there was no direct pressure or interference from President Duterte on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal application. “In fairness to the President, he NEVER called any of us congressmen, and NEVER issued any marching orders to tell us what to do’,” he declared.
Albano noted that the President has never interfered and does not intend to interfere in the business of Congress. He also noted that while he values freedom of speech, that right is “not absolute”. He said, “And when the right to speak is used for false news and slander the inherent basic rights of any person, then the freedom of speech becomes libelous and can be curtailed by the government,” he said.
Panelo also reiterated that Duterte is not behind Calida’s filing of the quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN. The President’s gripes against ABS-CBN stemmed from his “displeasure” over the news firm’s failure to run his political advertisements during the 2016 presidential derby, he said.
“The President has nothing to do with it. Whatever the utterance the President made in relation to the ABS-CBN came from his displeasure of being a victim of fraud, relative to his paying, for his campaign commercial that was never aired,”
Panelo also insisted that the renewal of ABS-CBN’s legislative franchise would be up to Congress. He made the remarks following the claim of some critics that the President might make a way to stop the granting of the franchise to ABS-CBN.
“And let me say that the grant of the franchise falls exclusively within Congress…, from whatever angle you look at it, it’s Congress, it’s not the President,” he said.
A congressional franchise bill needs to be first approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate before the President can decide on its fate. As president, Duterte has the power to sign into law or veto bills that Congress approves. House lawmakers, however, have yet to deliberate on the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN.
Duterte, during the oath-taking of newly-elected officers and board of trustees of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) held at Palace’s Rizal Hall on Wednesday night, said: “While the Constitution upholds the freedom of the press, the function of broadcast is a privilege granted by government. It is imbued with the best interest of the nation and our people. We will not tolerate any abuse of the privilege,” he said.
In his speech, Duterte assured the Philippine media that under his watch, he will not allow any possible abuse of privileges vested in them. He did not touch on the issues hounding ABS-CBN, but said he acknowledges the important role of the broadcast media in “shaping a nation’s progress (through) responsible dissemination of news and information to our people.”
Meanwhile, Senator Grace Poe on Thursday said she is pushing for a Senate probe on the alleged franchise violations of ABS-CBN Corp. despite a quo warranto petition filed against it before the SC. “This is part of the Senate’s oversight function over any franchise and not just ABS-CBN, as mandated by the Constitution and the Senate Rules,” Poe said in a statement a day after filing her Senate Resolution 322.
Poe said the resolution initiates the discussion of her panel on the compliance of ABS-CBN with the terms and conditions of its franchise “and to allow all parties to air their side”. She added the planned discussion in the Senate does not prevent any action in the House or in the SC due to the quo warranto petition.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Sherwin Gatchalian supported Poe’s initiative. In a radio interview, Sotto said a resolution looking into the allegations “is in order”.
“It’s good that ABS-CBN would also have the chance to explain, and not just what is just being heard, about the alleged violations,” Sotto said. He said the Senate probe may also be a way for Poe to speed up the process if the network’s franchise reaches the Senate.
Under the law, the Senate cannot act on pending franchise bills unless the House approves it. “So the hearings would not take long, and besides, she cannot conduct hearings on the franchise since it is not yet transmitted to us,” he said. (PNA)