Artists group: 'Rappler yesterday, ABS-CBN today. Who's next?'

MANILA, Philippines – A group of artists criticized the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) after its head, Jose Calida, filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to revoke ABS-CBN's legislative franchise.

The Free the Artist Movement (FAM) said on Monday, February 10, that the House of Representatives should be "left alone, free of pressure, to deal with the pending House bills pertaining to the ABS-CBN franchise."

Signatories of the statement include Jaime Fabregas, Angel Aquino, John Arcilla, Bart Guingona, Lui Quiambao-Manansala, Pinky Amador, Bituin Escalante, Leo Rialp, Neil Daza, Joel Lamangan, Ricky Lee, Nanding Josef, Mae Paner, Dwight Gaston, Jun Sabayton, Sue Prado, Alemberg Ang, Angeli Bayani, Arthur Acuna, Monique Wilson, Bodgie Pascua, Ian Lomongo, Keith Sicat, Sari Dalena, Mackoy Villaroman, Pen Medina, Sigrid Andrea P. Bernardo, Sol Cruz, and Chai Fonacier, among others.

ABS-CBN is the country's biggest media networks, with a media franchise that is set to expire by the end of March 2020. 

"It is ironic that the very Constitution this government wants to change is now being used to clamp down on media outfits for allegedly violating foreign ownership restrictions on mass media," the group said, referring to Calida's arguments in the petition.

In his petition, Calida argued that ABS-CBN unlawfully implemented its franchise by supposedly offering paid broadcast without government approval; and by allegedly allowing foreign ownership of the corporation.

Calida cited Philippine Depository Receipts (PDRs) in his argument against ABS-CBN. Calida cited the same in his arguments against Rappler.

ABS-CBN has maintained that they have not violated the terms of their franchise and all of their broadcast offerings have been approved by the government.

The group, echoing the calls of other journalism groups, cautioned against the bigger implications of Calida's actions: the current administration's moves to threaten media freedom in the Philippines.

"These moves against media companies should make the public truly wary and afraid. There is a hidden agenda to all these. Who will be the new owners of those valued franchises of ABS-CBN and other media outfits under fire?" the group said.

FAM, once known as Task Force ChaCha, is a group that's been submitting position papers before Congress on issues of the Constitution, working conditions in media, and censorship.

"But we realized the need to go more public if this will help generate more discussion on matters that will impact all our lives. Thus, we enjoin our fellow freedom-loving artists in the industry to join us in publicly expressing their opinion on this matter," it said.

The Supreme Court has since directed ABS-CBN to answer Calida's petition. – Rappler.com