SOLICITOR General Jose Calida yesterday asked the Supreme Court to prohibit parties and representatives of broadcast network ABS-CBN Corp. from issuing any statement about the quo warranto petition he filed against the network last week.
The tribunal ordered the network to comment “within five days” on the urgent motion for the issuance of the gag order.
Supreme Court spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka said the Senate can proceed with its hearing next week on bills seeking to renew the network’s franchise despite Calida’s latest motion.
Calida said an official statement released by ABS-CBN stating its compliance with franchise rules did not violate the sub judice rule as it is similar to briefers issued by the SC in certain cases. But subsequent moves by ABS-CBN showed it is “engaged in propaganda” to influence public opinion, Calida said.
The ABS-CBN statement was issued after Calida filed the quo warranto petition on Monday last week, in which he asked the tribunal to revoke the 25-year franchise granted by Congress for alleged “abusive practices.”
ABS-CBN’s franchise expires on March 30.
Calida said that the network, “not content” with issuing its official statement on the petition, “thereafter engaged in propaganda in a clear attempt to elicit public sympathy, sway public opinion, and, ultimately, to influence the resolution of the case.”
He cited as example a video titled “Quo warranto petition laban sa ABS-CBN, ano ang ibig sabihin?” aired on February 14 by the network. He said the video directly tackles the allegations in the quo warranto petition.
“The statements aired by anchor Christian Esguerra in the video tend to influence public opinion and unfairly encourage the pre-judgment of the instant case that in the event that the quo warranto petition will be granted, the Filipinos will experience a sense of unjust treatment as they would be deprived of their favorite shows in ABS-CBN,” Calida’s motion said.
He also cited a video, titled “Pagbabalita ng DZMM, binigyang pugay ng karaniwang Pilipino, aired on TV Patrol on February 16 which the solicitor general said elicited from those interviewed “biased answers in favor of ABS-CBN.”
Calida also mentioned a series of commentaries posed by ABS-CBN online, which he said “tend to prejudge the case and influence the Supreme Court.”
The motion also included posts of ABS-CBN artists and other personalities giving their opinions on the petition for quo warranto.
The Senate has set a hearing for February 27.
Hosaka said, “I don’t think that would matter. First of all, the senators are not parties to the case. What is on the table right now is the motion filed by the Office of the Solicitor General and as I said earlier, to hear the side of ABS-CBN Corp. and ABS-CBN Convergence. That is part of due process, the need to hear their side.”
Hosaka acknowledged it could be a bit complicated if among the resource persons of the Senate hearing would be from ABS-CBN.
Hosaka said the en banc will convene next Wednesday since Tuesday, February 25, is a holiday and the matter could be decided.
Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services, said the hearing “will push through according to our constitutional mandate” despite the gag order petition.
“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.
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said Calida’s move will not prohibit the Senate from requiring persons to appear and testify on the renewal of the network’s franchise case.
“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,” said Drilon, who is a former justice secretary.
Drilon said that even if the Supreme Court issues a gag order, it will not cover the hearings in the Senate.
“Such gag order, if ordered, cannot serve as a prohibition for ABS-CBN to appear and testify before the Senate panel.”
Drilon said the Constitution and various jurisprudence have upheld the power of the Senate to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation and to exercise its oversight power.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has accused ABS-CBN of showing bias in favor of some candidates in the 2010 and 2016 national elections.
“Can anyone honestly say, after watching the coverage of the network during the 2010 and 2016 elections, that ABS-CBN did not take sides and favor any candidate? Or that personalities and politicians, who, through the years have had strong affinity with the station, do not receive undue advantage during campaign season?” the Speaker said in a Facebook post on Monday evening.
Cayetano, who was President Duterte’s running mate in 2016, did not identify the politicians who were allegedly supported by ABS-CBN in the two previous national elections.
“Let me just say that this practice is prohibited by law under the Fair Elections Act. To which the network must, and will be given a chance to respond,” said the former senator and foreign affairs secretary.
The entertainment and media conglomerate drew the ire of President Duterte during his 2016 election campaign for allegedly refusing to air his campaign commercials despite payment. Duterte has threatened for three years to torpedo the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN.
Cayetano said the government, acting on behalf of the people, “cannot justify abuse of the franchise simply because it entertains the masses.”
“The franchise is not a license to do anything that they desire with their airtime – including manipulation, disinformation, and deception,” he said. “If we turn a blind eye to these violations of law, what then will stop the executives of other network franchises – GMA, TV5, CNN, and even the government’s own PTV – from using their airwaves for personal gain or political preference.”
If the network was a purely online content provider or a newspaper, the Speaker said, it would not even need a franchise from the government to operate.
“This clearly shows that this matter has not, nor has it ever been, purely an issue of free speech or freedom of the press,” Cayetano said.
While Cayetano vowed that the bills will be heard by the House, he reiterated his stance that there is no urgency to tackle bills extending ABS-CBN’s franchise to another 25 years even if is set to expire on March 30.
The Speaker said 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.”
“It is primarily for this reason that we do not see the urgency of a hearing at this point. It will be tedious, contentious, and it threatens to drain the momentum that has allowed the 18th Congress to accomplish so much – including the historic early passage of the 2020 General Appropriations Act, the Salary Standardization Law for Nurses and Teachers, the Malasakit Centers Act, and many other landmark legislations,” Cayetano said. – With Raymond Africa and Wendell Vigilia