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Quo Warranto petition against ABS-CBN – merits & warts

As I have posted on Facebook a few days ago, it was quite surprising that to have found some merit in the the quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor-Genral Jose Calida against ABS-CBN last February 10 at the Supreme Court.

Before I continue, a few clarifications: I have always criticized the Duterte administration for its patently-wrong war against drugs, to glaring hints of corruption, incompetence, unacceptable pivot to China and its many anti-poor policies. However, it’s important to keep an open mind and after reading the quo warranto petition, there are some valid, and to my mind are quite simple, points that the Solicitor-General has raised:

Number 1: Offering the digital pay-per-view TV channel Kapamilya Box Office (KBO) using a free-to-air frequency. In the petition, the OSG gave as basis orders, yes there were two: dated April 29, 2015 and May 14, 2019, from the National Telecommunications Commission that told ABS-CBN to “refrain from offering any pay television service” as there are still no established guidelines for it.

To date, ABS-CBN still operates KBO channel which is accessible via its own digital set-top box called ABS-CBN TV Plus. On top of this, which is another violation as per the OSG, the KBO channel can only be accessed by first buying the set-top box and then paying a subscription fee.

Number 2: Transferring the legislative franchise of Multi-Media Telephony, Inc which came under ABS-CBN ownership through a series of acquisitions to become ABS-CBN Converge without prior approval of Congress in violation of the very same franchise.

The other points in the petition belong to the realm of corporate law: ABS-CBN Converge’s failure to offer a percentage of its stock to the public as required by its legislative franchise and lastly, its use of PDRs or Philippine Depository Reciepts in order to raise funding from foreign entities which the OSG claims as violative of the Philippine constitution, I leave to the capable hands of the more learned.

Because of all these allegations, the Solicitor-General is asking the Supreme Court to stop ABS-CBN from offering its KBO channel and to cancel its legislative franchise which could would take the media giant off the Philippine airwaves.

Full text of the quo warranto petition:

However valid these points are, it’s hard to accept that the Solicitor-General’s petition was done in the noble pursuit of justice and fulfillment of his sacred duty. Before the petition, President Duterte has been launching tirades against ABS-CBN as he holds a grudge against the network for not airing his campaign ads back when he still a Presidential candidate in 2016. Not only did he offer the unsolicited advise to the Lopezes, which owns the ABS-CBN, to just sell the network, he has publicly stated that he will see to it that it gets shut down. ABS-CBN’s legislative franchise set to expire on March 30, 2020 and with Congress deciding to take its sweet time on granting it a renewal, much of the on going debate has focused on whether or not this Duterte words will become reality.

For his part, Solicitor-General Jose Calida has made a name of using his office to go after those who get the ire of the President: online news outfit Rappler and its founder Maria Ressa are facing lawsuits instigated by him and the most recent was former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno – removed from office by way of a quo warranto petition, again by Calida.

So the petition is also an issue of press freedom as much as it is about the rule of law in our land. Much more about this in a follow up post.

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