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Nothing to do with press freedom

“The record of this President vis-a-vis his critics and detractors as well as those who vilify him and his family speaks for itself.

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The ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation’s 25-year franchise is set to end on 30 March 2020.

On several occasions the President has publicly castigated ABS-CBN for reneging on a contract entered between them by failing to air his campaign material during the 2016 presidential elections.

In a least two events, PRRD declared that he will make sure that the franchise will not be renewed as its term is about expire. Those public statements triggered speculations that the giant network’s days are numbered. It also gave his critics and the political opposition the weapon to lambaste the President for violating the freedom of the press.

In a move that could be mistaken as a parallel step to stop the radio and television company from operating, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) announced that it is preparing a petition for quo warranto against ABS-CBN under Rule 66 of the Rules of Court, which states that “(a)n action for the usurpation of a (xxx) franchise may be commenced by a verified petition brought in the name of Republic of the Philippines against (xxx) (a)n association which acts as a corporation within the Philippines without being legally incorporated or without lawful authority so to act.”

As a reaction, Cagayan de Oro, 2nd District, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez assailed the OSG for depriving Congress of its authority to grant a license to corporations. He filed House Bill 5705 to renew the Lopez-owned network’s franchise for another 25 years. In the Senate, Sen. Panfilo Lacson raised the specter of a “constitutional crisis” that he said could arise by reason of the filing of the quo warranto.

Both legislators are of course absolutely wrong on their theses. The power of Congress to grant franchise is not withheld nor removed by the filing of quo warranto by the OSG. The result of a successful quo warranto proceeding is to revoke a franchise already granted by Congress. Each exercise is not contradictory nor is it antagonistic. Under the law, a franchise granted by law can be revoked for certain violations.

To the credit of Senator Lacson, he has since retracted and apologized for his wrongful interpretation of the law, which erroneous reading is expected since he is not a lawyer.

With regard to the accusation that the Chief Executive is trying to muzzle the press by expressing his displeasure to the fraud committed by ABS-CBN against him by not airing his paid campaign commercial, it is misplaced. The public expression of outrage against a corporation committing estafa or swindling against his person is part of the freedom of speech, of which, like any other citizen, the President is entitled.

It will be Congress that will deliberate whether or not ABS-CBN’s franchise will be renewed. If the bill on it passes both houses of Congress, then it goes to the President for his signature. The Constitution grants him the power to sign the bill into law or to veto it, if in his evaluation, the same is unconstitutional. His power to approve or disapprove is not absolute however, as Congress by a two-thirds vote of its members can override his veto. Also if he fails to act on it 30 days from receipt of the enrolled bill, the latter passes into law.

The record of this President vis-a-vis his critics and detractors as well as those who vilify him and his family speaks for itself. He has not haled anybody to court by reason of the incessant libelous statements against him and his family. He does not exact vengeance against enemies.

Should ABS-CBN’s franchise not be renewed, it will be because it has violated legal conditions imposed by law. Its continued operation depends on its compliance with the law and not because the President is displeased with it. And certainly it has nothing to do with abridging the freedom of the press. He has never interfered with the work of Congress nor with the Supreme Court. When his appointees to the Cabinet failed to get the nod of the Commission on Appointments, there was nary a word of disgust from him. When the Supreme Court makes a ruling on any matter, he respects it. He always asserts the supremacy of the rule of law. He makes certain that due process is accorded every person, natural or juridical.

The conjectures that the President is using his power to persecute ABS-CBN for personal retribution are totally baseless and undeserved. It is simply out of character for the President to be petty.

He may sound tough and rude but he is never arbitrary nor frippery. On the campaign trail when he was running for President, he was invariably asked by reporters and voters, “What is your platform of government?” His standard response was swift and unblinking: “Just follow the law.” In the Cabinet meetings when he is confronted with a debated issue, he tells the Cabinet members, “Let the law take its course.”

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