TV network’s franchise coming to a head

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    WITH a sense of deja vu, we read and heard the top story yesterday that government lawyers asked the Supreme Court to forfeit the legislative franchises of radio-TV giant ABS-CBN Corporation and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence Inc. Both pleas were contained in a quo warranto petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General led by Solicitor General Jose C. Calida.

    We remember Attorney Calida who successfully unseated a Supreme Court chief justice through the first celebrated quo warranto case in Philippine jurisprudence. Now, the quo warranto will be tested again, this time against a franchise previously given by Congress to a private enterprise.

    A quo warranto is a “special civil action by the government against a person who usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises a public office, position or franchise; or against a public officer who does or suffers an act which, by provision of law, constitutes a ground for the forfeiture of his office; or an association which acts as a corporation within the Philippines without being legally incorporated or without lawful authority to act.”

    The timing of Calida’s petition with the High Tribunal is suspect, as the House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Franchises has before it several bills seeking to extend the franchise of ABS-CBN which is reportedly lapsing on March 30, 2020.

    While the media outfit opted for an offensive by mobilizing its friends in politics, media, academe and labor sector to come to its aid, the OSG contented itself to a narration of facts and Malacanang Palace, through Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo assured the public that President Duterte had nothing to do with this recent turn of events.

    To recall, the Chief Executive had been very critical of ABS-CBN, charging its owners, the Lopez family, of giving him a raw deal during the presidential campaign by accepting payment for his advertisements but refusing to air them.

    Now Calida has convenient uncovered “highly abusive practices” of the radio-TV network, saying these are “benefiting a greedy few at the expense of millions of its loyal subscribers.

    These practices have gone unnoticed or were disregarded for years.” Calida also charged that ABS-CBN has been broadcasting for a fee, which is beyond the scope of its franchise.

    Meanwhile, the network denied the OSG’s allegations. It said in a statement yesterday:

    “We reiterate that everything we do is in accordance with the law. We did not violate the law.”

    ABS-CBN said it complied with all the pertinent laws governing its franchise and secured all the necessary government and regulatory approvals for its business operations.

    “ABS-CBN Holdings’ Philippine Deposit Receipts or PDRs were evaluated and approved by the SEC and the Philippine Stock Exchange prior to its public offering. The ownership of ABS-CBN in ABS-CBN Convergence was undertaken under the same law and structures that have been utilized by other telecommunications companies,” it added.

    We all await the incendiary debates on this issue – in the SC and the House of Representatives and the Senate. The forthcoming arguments will show which side is really for the interest of the majority of the Filipino people.

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