Philippine broadcast giant ABS-CBN remains off the air, but it has scored a win before the Supreme Court of the Philippines.
Sitting en banc, the high court on June 23 junked the petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida to revoke ABS-CBN Corp.’s franchise.
The Supreme Court ruled that the issue was already “moot” because the franchise already expired on May 4.
In February, Calida filed a petition for quo warranto, asking the SC to nullify ABS-CBN’s franchise due to the networks’ supposed violations of conditions set by Congress for the 25-year operation of its television and radio broadcasting stations.
Calida alleged that ABS-CBN allowed foreign entities to take part in the ownership of a Philippine mass media entity, which is a violation of the 1987 Constitution.
He also accused the network of launching the TV Plus subscription service and the KBO Channel without the National Telecommunications Communications’ (NTC) approval.
The quo warranto petition by Calida was among the reasons cited by the NTC why it didn’t give a temporary permit and instead issued a shutdown order on the network after its franchise lapsed in May.
ABS-CBN will remain off air despite the ruling, as the closure order — which the broadcaster has challenged before the top court — is still in effect.
Congress is also deliberating on a bill seeking to grant another 25-year franchise to the network, which has been criticized by President Rodrigo Duterte.
A quo warranto petition against unit ABS-CBN Convergence remains pending.
Malacañang on June 23 said it respects the decision of the Supreme Court to dismiss the quo warranto plea filed by Calida against ABS-CBN Corp.
“We respect the decision of the High Court, a separate and co-equal branch of government, on the quo warranto case filed against ABS-CBN Corporation,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press statement.
“We leave it to the Solicitor-General as the Petitioner to decide on his next legal steps,” he said.
ABS-CBN’s franchise expired on May 4 after Congress failed to give the network a new franchise.
ABS-CBN went off the air on May 5 after the NTC issued a cease and desist order against the local media giant following the expiration of its franchise.
ABS-CBN has repeatedly maintained that it did not commit any violation.
On May 7, ABS-CBN asked SC to nullify and set aside the NTCs cease and desist order, claiming that the state commission “gravely abused its discretion” when it made the ruling.
Roque reiterated that the executive branch would let Congress decide on the fate of ABS-CBN’s franchise.
“Meanwhile on the issue of renewal of ABS-CBN franchise, we consider this a prerogative of Congress, which is presently deliberating on the matter,” he said.
The bills granting a fresh franchise to ABS-CBN remain pending before the House of Representatives.
Malacañang earlier guaranteed that President Duterte would not veto the franchise bill that would be approved by lawmakers once it reaches his table and if there is no constitutional infirmity.
Discussions for the new franchise bills of ABS-CBN at the House of Representatives will resume on June 29 following a “mutual decision” by lawmakers and the broadcast network to postpone proceedings.
The joint hearings by the House committees on legislative franchises and good government were supposed to resume June 23 and June 24, based on the chamber’s calendar, with alleged unfair labor practices, tax issues and the use of multiple channels under one franchise by the company in the agenda.
Among the major issues left for discussion is the ABS-CBN TVPlus, or the so-called “black box”, with many lawmakers expressing intent to ask questions about it.
The deliberations started on May 26, and was last held on June 17, tackling the citizenship of ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III, the issuance of Philippine Deposit Receipts (PDRs) by ABS-CBN Holdings, the 50-year franchise limit and the network’s reacquisition of its assets.
The Department of Justice has said in the hearings that Lopez is also a Filipino citizen, being born to Filipino parents, aside from being a US citizen because of his birth in the United States.
The PDRs issued by ABS-CBN Holdings are also “compliant” with laws, the Securities and Exchange Commission said.
The DOJ also said Congress can issue multiple franchises that collectively can exceed 50 years, as long as the individual franchise does not exceed 50 years. It is the same assertion of ABS-CBN’s legal counsels.
In opposing the grant of a new franchise to ABS-CBN, Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta claimed that the broadcast network has been operating for a total of 53 years, violating the Constitution’s provision on the period of franchises.