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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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Bloggers for Freedom

It grabbed headlines last January 15, the SEC has come out with a ruling revoking Rapper’s Certificate of Incorporation for allegedly violating the Constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership and control of mass media entities in the Philippines. The alleged violation is its issuance of PDR or Philippine Depository Receipts to Omidyar Network, a fund created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

While other media entities in the Philippines have also used PDRs to receive investments from foreign entities, what makes Rappler’s case stand out is the following:

In the run up to the SEC decision, Rappler has already been at the receiving end of attacks from the Duterte administration for its critical reporting, with no less than President Duterte himself calling the news outfit a source of fake news while the President’s closest allies have repeatedly labeled Rappler as a propaganda machine for the Liberal Party. The Duterte Administration, just like the President himself, has not taken criticisms all too well. Threatening the imposition of martial law, filing of cases and even downright violence against media personalities critical of the government.

And so while the SEC’s decision does raise the legitimate issue that Rappler’s PDR arrangements with Omidyar Network may have run afoul of Constitutional limits – which also means other media entities using the same financial instrument for foreign funding might also be needed to be scrutinized, the SEC’s decision to revoke Rappler’s Certificate of Incorporation outright, effectively shutting it down, is a textbook case of government attack on press freedom and free speech for both are fundamental Constitutional rights.

And whenever our fundamental Constitutional rights are under threat from the government, one must not simply sit idle and watch from the sidelines.

So I join my fellow bloggers and citizens in responding to this threat, initially with the collective statement below:

Bloggers for Freedom

We concerned Filipino bloggers stand for the rights to free expression and to free speech. And our first responsibility is to protect these rights.

We thus stand with Rappler, its right to exist, the rights of its working journalists and contributors, and the rights of its community of readers.

We stand against moves to silence and scare journalists, bloggers and media practitioners just because the President and his ardent supporters dislike their news and views.

Now is a time for making choices amid battles between truth and lies, debate and dissonance, democracy and dictatorship.

We sign our names here to tell everyone we have made a choice. We are bloggers for freedom.

Noemi Lardizabal-Dado
Tonyo Cruz
Dale Bacar
Marcelle Fabie
Myk Mykapalaran Cruz
Rod Magaru
Ely Valendez
Jeman Bunyi Villanueva
Alex Lapa
Tess Termulo
Zena Bernardo
Jover Laurio
James Romer V. Velina
Ramon Nocon
Flow Galindez
Helga Weber
Mc Richard Viana Paglicawan
Raymond Palatino
Loi Landicho
Saul de Jesus
Karlo Mongaya
Ricky Rivera
Mark Will Mayo Magallanes
Eyriche Cortez
Julius Mariveles
Yusuf Ledesma
RJ Barrete
Dino Manrique
Peachy Tan
Rhadem Camlian Morados
Julius Rocas
Jon Limjap
Markku Suguerra
Jam Ancheta
Estan Cabigas
Enrico Dee
Acee Vitangcol
Stefan Punongbayan
Jesus Falcis
Hancel Reyes
Czarina Maye Noche
JM Mariano
Reginald Agsalon
John Clifford Sibayan
Jane Uymatiao
Johnn Mendoza
Carlos Celdran
Christian Melanie
Jann Medina
Carlo Arvisu
Inday Espina Varona
Eugene Alvin Villar
Melo Villareal
Brian Ong
Fritz Tentativa
Fitz Villafuerte
Tina Antonio
Mykel Andrada
Reynaldo Pagsolingan Jr.
Renz Daniel de Vera

Published on January 19, 2018, Black Friday

You can join us, sign the statement here then post it on your blog or social media channel. Include the hashtags below. Better yet, join us at Boys’ Scout Circle, Timog/Morato Quezon City at 6PM and together let us stand for and defend press freedom.