By Azer Parrocha
MANILA — Malacañang on Monday said Solicitor General Jose Calida was only doing his job as the government’s top lawyer when he filed a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court seeking to forfeit the legislative franchises of ABS-CBN Corporation and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc.
Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo denied that President Rodrigo Duterte had a hand in Calida’s decision to seek the revocation of their legislative franchises, stressing that it was not the President’s “style” to interfere with other government officials’ decisions.
“The SolGen is constitutionally bound to institute any action against any transgressors of law. And if a franchise holder is violating its franchise, then it is his duty to file a petition of quo warranto,” Panelo said in a Palace briefing.
“What I know of the President’s style is, if you want to do something in relation to your job, do it. Let the law takes its course,” he added.
Panelo emphasized that Duterte was only expressing “displeasure” over ABS-CBN’s supposed biased reporting, failure to air his political ads during the 2016 presidential race and return the money he paid for these.
“The President’s feelings about ABS-CBN, you must remember that there is a basis for his expression of displeasure. He was a victim of fraud. And when he expresses that, that expression falls within the freedom of expression which we cannot deprive a President of given that all citizens are entitled to that,” Panelo said.
“But it doesn’t mean nor has it anything to do with the petition filed by the Solicitor General because that is the job of the SolGen. And if he does not do that, then he would be charged with dereliction of duty,” he added.
Highly abusive practices
In his petition, Calida accused the broadcasting giant of “highly abusive practices” at the expense of millions of its loyal subscribers.
Calida said ABS-CBN had been hiding behind an “elaborately crafted corporate veil”, and alleged that it was allowing foreign investors to take part in the ownership of a Philippine mass media entity by issuing Philippine Deposit Receipts (PDRs) through ABS-CBN Holdings Corp., a violation of the 1987 Constitution.
Under the 1987 Constitution, mass media ownership is limited to Filipinos.
Television and radio broadcasting firms in the Philippines are mandated to secure a franchise from the government before they can operate.
The network’s 25-year franchise will expire on March 30, 2020, unless Congress and the President grant its renewal.
Following some lawmakers’ criticism against the quo warranto petition, Panelo dismissed them as “misplaced” noting that it is still Congress that has the constitutional authority to grant a franchise.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez described Calida’s move as an “assault to constitutional press freedom and separation of powers of the judiciary and the legislature.”
Deputy House Speaker and Surigao del Sur 2nd District Rep. Johnny Pimentel called the quo warranto petition a “questionable and alarming development.”
“When you file a petition for a franchise to be withdrawn, which has already been granted, it is not depriving Congress kasi sila ang nagbibigay eh. Kaya lang siya nag-file ng petition dahil may mga violation na sinasabi siya (because they’re the ones who gave it. The only reason he filed a petition is that there is a violation),” Panelo said.
He also said the quo warranto petition was not related to press freedom, shutting down the claim of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) that the government is “hell-bent on using all its powers to shut down the broadcast network.”
“Wala ngang koneksyon iyong press freedom eh. Kasi unang-una, ang Congress nga ang magga-grant o magri-renew eh (It has no connection to press freedom. Because firstly, Congress grants or renews the legislative franchise),” he said.
Panelo, meanwhile, urged celebrities and other workers of ABS-CBN to appeal to Congress to renew their legislative franchise and not the President.
“Mali iyong kanilang pinapakiusapan. Dapat makiusap sila sa Congress na i-renew iyong lisensya. Kasi kay Presidente, wala naman siyang ano doon, wala siyang pakialam doon (They’re appealing to the wrong person. They should appeal to the Congress to renew their license. Because the President has nothing to do with it, he doesn’t care),” Panelo said. (PNA)