MANILA, Philippines — Television network ABS-CBN could still apply for a new franchise if the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) succeeds in its bid to revoke the expiring one, Malacañang said yesterday.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the subject of the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida was the network’s present franchise, which is set to expire on March 30. ?
“You know, actually the filing of the petition is ‘much ado about nothing’ with respect to the opposition because if the quo warranto succeeds, then all that ABS-CBN can do is to apply for a new franchise. There’s nothing that would prevent them from applying again for a new franchise,” Panelo told ABS-CBN News Channel. ?
“What I’m saying is, the reason why the SolGen (solicitor general) filed this case is because that is his constitutional duty… a legal duty imposed on him by law. If he does not, then he opens himself to criminal prosecution – of dereliction of duty… He cannot close his eyes to any violation regardless of the time,” he added. ?
Last Monday, the OSG asked the Supreme Court to forfeit the legislative franchises of ABS-CBN Corp. and its subsidiary ABS-CBN Convergence Inc., citing what it described as “highly abusive practices” of the network. ?
The OSG claimed that ABS-CBN has been broadcasting for a fee, something it said is beyond the scope of its franchise.
It also accused the network of violating the Constitution by allowing foreign investors to take part in the ownership of a Philippine media entity.
?It also said that the network had issued Philippine Deposit Receipts (PDRs) through ABS-CBN Holdings Corp. to foreigners in violation of the foreign ownership restriction on mass media in the Constitution.
?This is allegedly aside from abusing the granted privilege by launching and operating the pay-per-view channel KBO without prior approval of the National Telecommunications Commission. ?
The OSG also accused ABS-CBN Convergence of resorting to an “ingenious corporate layering scheme” to transfer its franchise without congressional approval and that the company had failed to publicly offer any of its outstanding capital stock to any securities exchange in the Philippines within five years from the start of its operations, one of the conditions of its franchise. ?
ABS-CBN has denied violating the law and claimed that the OSG’s allegations do not have merit. It said all its broadcast offerings, including KBO, have received the necessary government and regulatory approvals and are not prohibited by its franchise.
It also claimed that ABS-CBN Holdings’ PDRs were evaluated and approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Philippine Stock Exchange prior to its public offering.
ABS-CBN also maintained that its ownership in ABS-CBN Convergence was undertaken under the same law and structures that have been used by other telecommunications companies.
The transfers were approved under the Public Telecommunications Policy Act and are fully compliant with law, the network added.
Journalists’ groups have condemned the quo warranto petition, calling it a threat to press freedom and an attempt to silence media outlets perceived as threats to the administration.
Terms and conditions
Meanwhile, President Duterte may attend the Senate inquiry into the giant network’s compliance with the terms and conditions of its franchise, as contained in Republic Act 7966.
Sen. Grace Poe wants the committee on public services, which she chairs, to look into the network’s operations and find if all the requirements have been complied with while waiting for the House of Representatives to hear the franchise renewal application of ABS-CBN.
“As a general rule, anyone can participate. As a general rule, the committee can invite anyone… The committee can request from the President his opinion regarding this oversight hearing. Anyone who could shed light on these allegations,” said Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian.
He noted that the President does not need to be physically present during the Senate inquiry: “Not necessary physical, it can be through counsel or through a letter.”
Poe said her resolution would not raise any issue on sub judice in the quo warranto case filed before the Supreme Court by Calida last Feb. 10 nor preclude the actions of the House or the court.
She said the examination is part of the Senate’s oversight function over any franchise and not just that of ABS-CBN, as mandated by the Constitution and the Senate Rules.
“Due to the gravity of the allegations and its possible effects, the committee has deemed it appropriate to lay the groundwork for a possible inquiry in the spirit of public interest,” Poe added.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III welcomed Poe’s resolution which would pave the way for ABS-CBN to discuss and explain the allegations hurled against the network involving compliance with their franchise requirements.
He added that the resolution would help the Senate in resolving the franchise issue when it reaches the Senate.
ABS-CBN Corp. was granted on March 30, 1995 a 25-year franchise to construct, install, operate and maintain television and radio broadcasting stations in the Philippines.
But a month before its expiration, Calida filed a quo warranto petition to seek the revocation of this franchise.
In its statement, ABS-CBN stressed that no law has been violated and all their dealings are well within the provisions of their franchise.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson suggested that the senators meet in a caucus first as it (aim of the resolution) “may be violative of the sub judice rule now that the SC has already asked ABS-CBN to file their comment within 10 days.”
But Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Poe’s resolution merely calls on the Senate to exercise its oversight functions.
“Congress, not the Supreme Court, is the body that has jurisdiction to review compliance by ABS-CBN of the terms of the franchise granted by Congress, especially that there are pending bills seeking renewal of the franchise,” he added. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe