Journalists, solons and militants slammed President Rodrigo Duterte and his top lawyer for filing a quo warranto petition to revoke the franchise of ABS-CBN Corp. before the high court, saying this is a violation of the freedom of the press.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines ( NUJP) urged Congress and the Supreme Court to act as independent and co-equal branches of government after Solicitor General Jose Calida sought to revoke the franchise of ABS-CBN Corp. before the high court.
The NUJP urged journalists to close ranks around their colleagues in ABS-CBN as it accused the Duterte administration as being “hellbent on using all its powers to shut down the broadcast network.”
“We call on all Filipinos who cherish democracy to stand up and defend press freedom because this freedom belong to you,” NUJP said in a statement.
“This is not just about ABS-CBN. This is not just about the Philippine media. This is all about whether anyone can or should deprive you, the Filipino people, of your right to know.”
Former NUJP director Nonoy Espina earlier said the Office of the Solicitor General’s quo warranto petition was a “direct attack” on press freedom.
ACT Teachers Representative France Castro slammed Duterte and Solicitor General Jose Calida for filing a quo warranto petition against television network ABS-CBN in the Supreme Court.
The solon urged the House of Representatives not to yield its power over legislative franchises to “the private lawyer of President Duterte.”
“Solicitor General is again acting as the private lawyer of President Duterte against his enemies and to forward his political agenda. SolGen Calida has devoted so much of his time filing cases against critics of the Duterte administration like the Makabayan bloc and activists, Chief Justice Sereno, Rappler, Sen. Antonio Trillianes and Sen. Leila De Lima, while the OSG has yet to file cases against Duterte allies who are embroiled in corruption and who own public utilities that have clear franchise violations,” Castro said.
Castro said Duterte is once again using his attack dogs against his critics and those who refuse to bow to him, this time, to muzzle free press, endanger the jobs of at least 11,000 media workers and artists without due process.
“President Duterte just wants to make sure that ABS-CBN is taken off-air. Worse, he is using public funds and resources for his personal vendetta. We urge the House leadership to immediately hear bills concerning the renewal of franchise of ABS-CBN. It should prove that it is really is independent from the President and no longer sit down on bills which have been filed as early as its first day of business like the ABS-CBN franchise bills,” said Castro.
“It is the function of the House of Representatives to revoke or to award franchises, President Duterte and SolGen Calida should not use the OSG to take this power away from the House. The House Leaders should not sit back and allow the Executive to take this function from it,” Castro said.
Meanwhile, Senator Grace Poe, on the quo warranto, said, “We do not have a copy of the petition yet. We will not pre-empt the Court from resolving questions raised to it. In any case, every franchise undergoes a public hearing and I intend to tackle these issues in a fair and a deliberative manner.”
“As the Constitution mandates, the Senate’s jurisdiction over franchises remains despite the existence of the petition.”
“Well, I trust that the Court will decide on the basis of fairness and for the interest of the greatest number of people,” said Poe.
“I think this is not just an issue of franchise, but this is in a broader stroke, a concern for fair and sound business practice, press freedom, and jobs for all the employees of the television network,” she said.
For his part, Senator Francis Pangilinan said, “Congress is mandated to act on ABS-CBN franchise application. Congress has the duty to give due process to ABS-CBN’s application for franchise renewal.”
“We are mandated under the law to give proper course to any application, which Congress has granted smoothly to other networks. As provided for in Republic Act 3846, or “An Act Providing for the Regulation of Radio Stations and Radio Communications in the Philippine Islands, and For Other Purposes,” commercial broadcasting corporations have to secure a legislative franchise, also called a congressional franchise, for them to operate,” he said.
“Complaints against the network should be formally lodged before Congress to be tackled in the hearing, giving opportunity for all sides to be heard,” said Pangilinan.
While networks are here for profit, they also exist for public service and as watchdog of government. Their continued operations should not be at the mercy of the government in power that they seek to guard, Pangilinan said.
For their part, labor group, Defend Job Philippines expressed alarm over the abrupt filing of a quo warranto petition aginst ABS-CBN by Calida at the Supreme Court. The group sees the said move of the government “not just an act to curtail press freedom but an attack against the livelihood of more than 11,000 workers of the Kapamilya network.”
“Atty. Calida’s moves to question the validity of ABS-CBN franchise and asking the High Court to revoke it send a strong signal of the real intent of the Duterte government to silence the media giant and disenfranchise its thousands of workers of their employment to feed their families,” said Thadeus Ifurung, Defend Job Philippines spokesperson.
He added, “Duterte’s invisible hand in Calida’s action is evident and is ready to give death blows against Kapamilya workers and to press freedom in the country.”
Defend Jobs Philippines called on the Supreme Court justices “to vote on the SolGen’s petition according to their conscience and not through partisan political dictates.”
The labor group reiterated their call for the Philippine Congress to do their jobs and start discussing the passage of a law that will grant fresh and renewed legislative franchise of ABS-CBN despite Calida’s petition.
Defend Job Philippines also told President Duterte to resolve its rift with the ABS-CBN management in proper venues and must stop using the legislative franchise and the job security issue of ABS-CBN workers as hostages to his plans of going after the TV network.
Since 2018, President Duterte has been vocal on its claims of the supposed failing of ABS-CBN to air his presidential campaign advertisements in 2016. The labor group also calls on President Duterte to rethink its threat to veto the franchise of ABS-CBN and let the company smoothly operate for the sake of its workers.
Defend Jobs Philippines noted that ABS-CBN, being the country’s largest TV network in the country, employs 6,730 regular employees, 900 non-regular workers and more than 3,325 talents since the end of 2018 based on the company’s report to the Securities and Exchange Commission and Philippine Stocks Exchange./Stacy Ang