‘End has come:’ Calida warms towards House in hailing ABS-CBN franchise kill

Lian Buan
It seems that all is well now between Calida and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, because what used to be a clash over jurisdiction now appears to be just a thing of the past

MANILA, Philippines – “And now, the end has come,” was Solicitor General Jose Calida’s chest-thumping over the House committee’s “killing” of the franchise renewal bills of embattled broadcast giant ABS-CBN, making his run-in with the lower house just over a month ago a thing of the past.

“Congress has done its job well. We salute Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Deputy Speaker Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla, Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta, Committee on Legislative Franchises Chair Rep. Franz Alvarez, Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado, Rep. Mike Defensor, Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, and all those who voted in favor of the Committee Resolution for their leadership and integrity,” Calida said in a statement on Saturday, July 11.

ABS-CBN has been off the air since May 5 and will remain as such indefinitely, risking as many as 11,000 jobs, with layoffs pegged to start in August.

Calida’s cordial, and even praising tone, towards the House and Cayetano signals that all is now well between the two men who previously traded barbs over who had the real jurisdiction of the ABS-CBN franchise issue.

“Indeed, Congress, through the joint committees, not only exercised its constitutional mandate, but also fulfilled Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano’s promise to the Filipino people that ‘the hearings [would] be fair, impartial, comprehensive and thorough, and that “[a]ll voices [would] be heard and all issues for and against [would] be discussed,” said Calida in a statement on Saturday, a day after the 70-11 vote slammed across sectors as a direct assault on Philippine press freedom.

Calida prided himself on his Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) as being the one to have “brought ABS-CBN’s violations to the attention of the public,” referring to the quo warranto petition he filed before the Supreme Court in February.

The Supreme Court dismissed the quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN Corporation for being moot because there was now no franchise to speak of.

 Press freedom

Calida listed as among ABS-CBN’s violations “biased reporting” and “political meddling,” even as he said that “the denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise cannot be characterized as a restraint on freedom of expression or of the press because the primordial effect of such denial is the upholding of the constitutional provision and laws governing media companies like ABS-CBN.”

The House committee report that got the winning votes to deny ABS-CBN its franchise also said that it had nothing to do with press freedom.

This is a claim notwithstanding the fact that the House committee grilled ABS-CBN’s news chief Ging Reyes for almost 10 hours over its reporting that members of the House disliked, many for personal reasons.

Occidental Mindoro Representative Josephine Ramirez Sato noted during that hearing that investigation into the franchise must not go into the content of ABS-CBN’s broadcast.

Philippine jurisprudence has given free speech a high protective bar, that even regulation must be content-neutral, for example regulating only the place and time of a protest, but not its content. 

Calida insisted that franchise is “a privilege and not a right.”

“Congress has ascertained that ABS-CBN is unworthy of a legislative franchise, and its decision must be accorded respect,” citing issues on foreign ownership, the citizenship of Gabby Lopez, labor issues, and several violation of broadcasting rules.

Flexing the OSG

Calida again flexed the OSG’s legal muscle by not only initiating a quo warranto petition, but also pressuring the National Telecommunications (NTC) not once, but twice, to issue cease and desist orders to make sure that ABS-CBN goes off air – the first time since martial law.

Malacañang has insisted its neutrality on this issue.

“Congress has done its duty under the Constitution, and by its action, the rule of law has been upheld. Justice has been served,” Calida said.

ABS-CBN has limited legal option now that their current franchise bills have been killed, but their petitions seeking to void NTC’s cease and desist order is still pending before the Supreme Court, and scheduled to be tackled en banc next week. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.