Calida: Congress did its job well by denying ABS-CBN a franchise

(Eagle News)–Congress, through the House of Representatives, did its job well by denying a renewal of ABS-CBN’s legislative franchise,  Solicitor General Jose Calida said.

According to Calida, Congress, which has the sole mandate to review and approve franchises of public utilities, not only exercised its constitutional mandate  through the House joint committees but also fulfilled the 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.”

After all, Calida said the  decision of the House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Franchises was arrived at “after a thorough, exhaustive, and painstaking consideration of all arguments.”

“Throughout the 13 hearings, the public was witness to the grueling interpellations made by members of the joint committee on ABS-CBN’s executives and lawyers as well as on the resource persons from various government agencies like the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Immigration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, among others,” Calida said, noting that ABS-CBN was given “full and reasonable opportunity” to refute the  allegations against it.

These allegations included the foreign citizenship of its chair emeritus, Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III; the issuance of Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) to foreigners which allowed foreign ownership in ABS-CBN; unlawful return of its assets to the Lopez family after martial law; violation of its previous franchise by operating a pay-per-view channel in its ABS-CBN TV Plus (the KBO Channel) without prior approval or permit from the National Telecommunications Commission;  unauthorized use of AMCARA’s legislative franchise;  labor law violations;  tax avoidance schemes; and  biased reporting, inappropriate program content, and political meddling.

“True to its mandate, Congress endeavored to objectively evaluate ABS-CBN’s qualifications as an applicant for a franchise through the hearings conducted,” Calida said.

House panel affirmed allegations in quo warranto petition: OSG

In his statement, Calida also pointed out the Committee on Legislative Franchises affirmed the allegations found in the OSG’s February 10 quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN with its decision.

He said in particular, it affirmed what the OSG had said that ABS-CBN violated its franchise when it launched and operated its KBO channel without prior approval or permit from the NTC, and  that ABS-CBN allowed foreign control over the company through its issuance of Philippine Depository Receipts, a violation of Section 11, Article XVI of the 1987 Constitution that limits ownership and management of mass media solely to Filipino citizens.

That petition was junked by the Supreme Court after ABS-CBN’s franchise–which the quo warranto petition had sought to be removed—expired before the justices deliberated on the issue, and was declared moot.

Calida noted that the  granting of a legislative franchise “is a privilege, not a right,” and Congress “has been ascertained that ABS-CBN is unworthy of a legislative franchise, and its decision must be accorded respect.”

He noted that  ABS-CBN itself had said that the Supreme Court should deny the quo warranto petition in order not to pre-empt Congress’ exercise of its power.

Now, he said ABS-CBN “categorized the issue of the validity of a legislative franchise as a political question that is beyond the purview of judicial review.”

“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,” he said.

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

On July 10, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Legislative Franchises denied the renewal of ABS-CBN’s  franchise, with an overwhelming 70 affirmative votes and 11 negative votes.