Government lawyers on Monday asked the Supreme Court to forfeit the legislative franchises of ABS-CBN Corporation and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc.
Solicitor General Jose Calida led his office in filing a quo warranto petition against the broadcast network.
“We want to put an end to what we discovered to be highly abusive practices of ABS-CBN benefitting a greedy few at the expense of millions of its loyal subscribers. These practices have gone unnoticed or were disregarded for years,” Calida said in a statement.
He alleged that ABS-CBN has been broadcasting for a fee and operating a "pay-per-view channel in ABS-CBN TV Plus, the KBO Channel, without prior approval or permit from the National Telecommunications Commission."
He also claimed that ABS-CBN has issued Philippine Depositary Receipts to foreigners — a similar allegation against online news site Rappler, which the government is prosecuting on other charges.
Calida further alleged that ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc. resorted to an "ingenious corporate layering scheme" to transfer its franchise "without the necessary Congressional approval."
"It also failed to publicly offer any of its outstanding capital stock to any securities exchange within the Philippines within five years from the start of its operations, which is an indispensable condition in its franchise," Calida said.
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly threatened to block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, which expires in March.
A bill seeking the renewal of the corporation’s franchise was refiled before the House of Representatives last July.
ABS-CBN Corporation however maintained that it did not violate the law, contrary to claims made by Calida.
In a statement, ABS-CBN slammed the petition as “ill-timed” and an effort to shut down the network.
“These allegations cited… are without merit. ABS-CBN complies with all pertinent laws governing its franchise and has secured all necessary government and regulatory approvals for its business operations,” the company said.
It added that all its broadcast offerings, including the KBO Channel, have obtained the necessary government approvals, while its PDRs were duly evaluated and approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Philippine Stock Exchange.
As for ABS-CBN Convergence, the network said its ownership was “undertaken under the same law and structures that have been utilized by other telecommunications companies.”
Reacting to the government action, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines called on the high court and Congress to prove their independence.
"This proves without a doubt that this government is hellbent on using all its powers to shut down the broadcast network whose franchise renewal, now pending in Congress, President Rodrigo Duterte has personally vowed to block. So much so that it would risk trampling on Congress' authority to legislate franchises," the NUJP said in a statement.
"We call on Congress and the Supreme Court to once and for all prove to the people that they are truly, as the Constitution envisions, independent and co-equal branches of government that are not at the beck and call of the executive," it added.
"We must not allow the vindictiveness of one man, no matter how powerful, to run roughshod over the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of the press and of expression, and the people's right to know," the NUJP said.
Quo warranto is a government action challenging “the usurpation of a public office, position or franchise,” according to Rule 66 of the Rules of Court.
It may be filed against “a person who usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises a public office, position or franchise; a public officer who does or suffers an act which, by the provision of law, constitutes a ground for the forfeiture of his office; or an association which acts as a corporation within the Philippines without being legally incorporated or without lawful authority so to act.”
This was the same action used by the OSG to successfully seek the ouster of then-chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, whom the SC removed from office in 2018 due to her alleged failure to file some mandatory asset declarations when she was teaching at the University of the Philippines College of Law.
Critics of the landmark decision said the ouster was unconstitutional, arguing that impeachable officials, including the chief justice, could be unseated exclusively through impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction by the Senate. —KBK/RSJ/KG, GMA News