SC the wrong place for complaint vs ABS-CBN – legal expert

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The Supreme Court will likely dismiss Solicitor General Jose Calida's petition to cancel ABS-CBN's franchise, with a legal expert saying the complaint has no factual basis and is filed before the wrong venue.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 11) — The Supreme Court will likely dismiss the petition to cancel ABS-CBN's franchise as the complaint had "no factual basis" and was filed at the wrong venue, a legal expert said.

Constitutional lawyer Tony La Viña said Solicitor General Jose Calida's quo warranto plea asking the high court to revoke the network's existing franchise and to take the KBO channel off the air should be dismissed if the SC's rules are strictly followed.

"In my view, the petition is a wrong petition in the wrong venue. There's no basis for the petition and it should not be in the Supreme Court," La Viña, also a law professor at the Ateneo Law School, told CNN Philippines' Newsroom.

Calida filed the petition against ABS-CBN Corporation and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence Inc., claiming violations after the network supposedly allowed foreign investors gain control over the company through Philippine Deposit Receipts or PDRs. The network has denied violating its current franchise.

In an interview with CNN Philippines' The Source, Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez agreed that Calida's petition had "no basis at all," saying that a quo warranto only applies to a person who "intrudes, usurps, unlawfully holds or exercises" a position or franchise. He said these do not apply to the network.

Calida used the same petition to remove Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno from office by proving that she did not qualify for the post because she did not file her Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth or SALNs for 10 years before she applied to be chief justice in 2012.

Per SC rules, La Viña said the highest court in the land would outrightly dismiss cases where facts have not been established, as well as when the complaint did not go through concerned government agencies and lower courts for redress first.

"If he (Calida) has issues with respect to how ABS-CBN has exercised its franchise, it should go to the National Telecommunications Commission. If it has issues about the ownership of ABS-CBN which is the other basis for the quo warranto, it should go to the Securities and Exchange Commission," the lawyer added.

La Viña noted that the question on PDRs has no factual basis, as these are "standard" investment tools that allow a media company to raise funding.

READ: House hearing not yet set for ABS-CBN franchise bill renewal

Questions on whether the Lopez-owned network violated provisions of its 1995 franchise should be something for Congress to resolve, as it issued the 25-year franchise which allowed the network to continue broadcasting.

The House of Representatives and Senate are yet to start discussing ABS-CBN's franchise renewal at the committee level, with barely two months left before the existing franchise expires by March 30.

La Viña also warned that this apparent intimidation is a threat to press freedom, even if Calida and Malacañang claimed that the petition is not motivated by politics.

"This has a chilling effect on the media organizations to stay critical about the President. We have to fight against this from a point of view as well," he said, adding that the network cannot be considered anti-government at all as a number of its news commentators are supporters of the administration.

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly slammed the network for supposedly failing to air his presidential campaign advertisements in 2016. ABS-CBN has over 10,000 employees and talents as of end-2018, who may lose their jobs if the network is forced to cease operations.

Duterte to ABS-CBN: Next year, you're out