The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the quo warranto charge filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida against ABS-CBN, as the franchise in question already expired in May.
Spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said the high court en banc junked Calida’s request to revoke the network’s earlier franchise for alleged violations of conditions set by Congress when it granted a 25-year authority for the Lopez-owned company to broadcast its content on television and radio.
Calida alleged ABS-CBN allowed foreign investors to “take part in the ownership of a Philippine mass media entity” despite being prohibited by the Constitution, through the issuance of Philippine depositary receipts. He also said the network launched the TV Plus subscription service and the KBO Channel without approval from the National Telecommunications Commission.
The franchise already expired on May 4, rendering Calida’s request moot. The expired lease was also the basis of the NTC’s shutdown order – an agency which Calida also handled as the government’s top counsel.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement that Malacañang respects the high court’s decision as a co-equal branch of government, adding that Calida is free to decide his next legal steps for the case.
ABS-CBN has remained off the air from its usual channels for over a month now, with its request to stop the NTC’s cease and desist order also pending before the court. Bills granting a fresh franchise to the media giant are also pending before the House of Representatives. NTC earlier committed to grant the network a provisional authority to remain operating despite the expiring franchise, only to walk back on its word.
The Kapamilya network has maintained that it did not violate the law.
Media and human rights groups said this was an effective curtailment of press freedom, robbing the public of a source of information amid the coronavirus crisis.
However, Hosaka said the case against its subsidiary ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc. remains pending before the court. Congress granted a 25-year franchise to the entity previously known as Multi-Media Telephony, Inc. in June 1997. That franchise expires in 2022.
Calida is known for using quo warranto petitions, which seeks to invalidate a person or entity’s qualifications for its current position or privilege. This was also how he got Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno out of the top seat in the Judiciary in 2018.
President Rodrigo Duterte has personally vowed to put the channel and its subsidiaries out of business, even telling its executives last year to just sell the company. He has publicly ranted against ABS-CBN for not airing his paid political ads during the May 2016 elections, which he eventually won. Network president Carlo Katigbak has apologized to Duterte, which the latter accepted.
Congress adjourned sessions earlier this month with the network’s franchise left pending before the House Committee on Legislative Franchises. Among the issues raised against ABS-CBN are the dual citizenship of its former chairman Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III and the issuance of PDRs to foreign investors, to name a few.