SolGen seeks SC gag order on ABS-CBN
At 10:20 a.m., the OSG filed the petition before the SC, on the same day that the justices hold their weekly session.
Boy Santos/File
SolGen seeks SC gag order on ABS-CBN
Evelyn Macairan (The Philippine Star) - February 19, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) yesterday asked the Supreme Court (SC) to issue a gag order to prohibit media network ABS-CBN Corp. and its communications subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence, from issuing statements on the quo warranto petition for the cancellation of their congressional franchise. 

At 10:20 a.m., the OSG filed the petition before the SC, on the same day that the justices hold their weekly session.

SC spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka confirmed that the magistrates received the copy of the Very Urgent Motion for Issuance of Gag Order that would require the OSG and the respondents not to issue statements on the quo warranto petition. 

Hosaka said, “In accordance with due process of the law, the SC has ordered the respondents ABS-CBN Corporation and ABS-CBN Convergence Inc. to file their respective comments to the motion filed by the Office of the Solicitor General within a non-extendible period of five days from receipt of notice.” 

But while waiting for the SC to give its ruling on the gag order motion, the situation is status quo. 

In a statement, the OSG believed that ABS-CBN violated the sub judice rule that restricts parties, witnesses, the public in general and most especially lawyers and judges from making comments and disclosures in relation to pending cases before the courts. Any person who violates this rule may render him or her liable for indirect contempt under the Rules of Court. 

The OSG explained that the short official statement issued by the respondents last Feb. 10, responding to the filing of quo warranto, did not violate the sub judice rule. 

“However, not content with issuing its official statement on the petition, ABS-CBN thereafter engaged in propaganda in a clear attempt to elicit public sympathy, sway public opinion and, ultimately, to influence the resolution of the case,” said Solicitor General Jose Calida.

Among the violations allegedly committed by the respondents were the showing of a video entitled “Quo warranto petition laban sa ABS-CBN, ano ang ibig sabihin? (against ABS-CBN, what does it mean?)” that was aired on Feb. 14; a video about their flagship radio station entitled, “Pagbabalita ng dzMM binigyang pugay ng karaniwang Pilipino (News reporting of dzMM lauded by common Filipinos),” aired on Feb. 16; a video entitled “Pagtalakay ng Quo Warranto vs. ABS-CBN sa korte sinimulan na (Discussions on the Quo Warranto vs. ABS-CBN in court have started)” aired last Feb. 11; commentaries posted on ABS-CBN’s online news platform, news.abs-cbn.com; and statements given by ABS-CBN, its artists and other personalities to various media outfits on the petition for quo warranto.

Hosaka said that since next Tuesday would fall on a holiday, the 34th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution, the next scheduled SC full session would be on Feb. 26.

Motion slammed

Senators yesterday slammed Calida’s move of filing the gag order as an attempt to curtail freedom of expression and intrude on the prerogative of Congress to exercise its duties on granting legislative franchises. 

The senators vowed to push through with the hearing of the public services committee – chaired by Sen. Grace Poe – on Feb. 27 on the franchise application of ABS-CBN whether or not the SC will rule in favor of Calida’s motion. 

“A motion for a gag order is what it is, just a motion. The Supreme Court will still have to decide on it under existing laws and all the cases it has decided before recognizing the jurisdiction of its co-equal branch. Whether it will apply the gag order on our hearings is up to the Court to decide but our hearing will push through according to our constitutional mandate,” Poe said.

She indicated the hearing date may be moved earlier, adding resource persons are protected from the gag order as long as their statements are made during the legislative proceedings.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the motion will not prohibit the Senate from requiring persons to appear and testify before it, citing SC rulings on the matter.

“The Supreme Court cannot prohibit persons to appear and testify before congressional inquiries in aid of legislation. The petition cannot prevent the Senate from hearing the issues on ABS-CBN. The petition has no effect on the Senate,” Drilon said.

Drilon on Monday filed a resolution seeking to extend the validity of the franchise of the broadcasting network until the end of 2022. The 25-year franchise of ABS-CBN is set to expire on March 30, 2020.

Palace support

Malacañang backed the solicitor general’s motion and maintained that the quo warranto petition is not about press freedom.

“He (Calida) is right in doing that because the issue has become emotional. It’s much ado about nothing; it’s not about press freedom. The President has nothing to do with the petition, again we will repeat,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said at a press briefing yesterday.

“The gag order refers to not discussing the merits of the case, because that will tend to influence the court,” he added.

 No pressure

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano declared that the House of Representatives will never yield to any pressure to renew the 25-year-old legislative franchise of ABS-CBN, as he vowed to hold hearings on the matter – both for and against.  

“As the leader of the House, I disagree with the rush to judgment, whether in favor or against the renewal. And I will stand by this decision,” he stated in his Facebook account Monday night.  

“Everyone from all sides of the issue say that this is an important debate – so, allow us then to give it the due importance it deserves,” the Taguig congressman said, implying that the House committee on legislative franchises will be holding hearings on the issue. 

The 11 ABS-CBN bills now remain pending in the committee headed by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, where no hearing has yet been held. 

Cayetano believes, like Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Bong Go, “that there is enough precedence to allow the network to continue to operate until such time as their franchise is denied or, absent this, until the last day of the 18th Congress,” which is in 2022.

Call for balance

Four business groups yesterday called on Congress to deliberate bills filed for the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise in a balanced, fair and timely manner.

“We fervently urge Congress to judiciously address any issues raised against the company while taking serious account of the bedrock issues of media freedom and free enterprise, which allow businesses to flourish for the overall welfare of our economy and our people,” business groups Management Association of the Philippines, Makati Business Club, Institute for Solidarity in Asia and Institute of Corporate Directors said in a joint statement.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said yesterday if the allegations against ABS-CBN are proven, it would send a positive signal to investors that the Philippine government is implementing the law.

“A lawsuit has been filed. There’s a claim by the OSG that there’s a violation of the regulations and, in fact, it might be a constitutional violation,” Dominguez said on the sidelines of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR)’s 2020 Tax Campaign kick-off.

“I think if that’s proven, the investors will say, ‘oh, these guys are upholding the rule of law,’” he added.

Earlier, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said the non-renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise may get in the way of pursuing diversity in the economy and fostering competition.

He said this would also have a negative effect on investor confidence as it is a direct government interference on a company that produces services desired by the public. – With Delon Porcalla, Louella Desiderio, Alexis Romero, Grace Padin

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