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Amnesty Intertional slams Calida move vs ABS-CBN

Amnesty Intertional slams Calida move vs ABS-CBN

MANILA, Philippines — Amnesty International (AI) has become the latest rights organization to join local and international groups in condemning the government’s attempts to shut down media giant ABS-CBN, saying that “by filing the quo warranto petition, the Duterte administration seems intent on skirting the regular legislative process in the granting of media franchises.”

AI was referring to the petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida on Monday in the Supreme Court.

Calida cited what he claimed to be abusive practices by the media network and also alleged that ABS-CBN had violated the constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership of media when it issued Philippine Depositary Receipts to foreigners through its holding corporation.

The network maintained that it complied with all the laws governing its franchise.

For Amnesty International, the government’s attack against the media company was a “sign of the further deterioration” of the human rights situation in the country.

Crackdown on critics

Calida’s move “is consistent with the government’s worrying record of stifling the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and peaceful dissent,” the London-based group said in a statement.

The rights group also noted the wider crackdown on independent media and government critics, citing the cases filed against online news site Rappler and its chief executive officer Maria Ressa, who was arrested twice last year on different charges.

“The Duterte administration should end its relentless attacks on human rights and the rule of law,” Amnesty International said.

Since coming to power in 2016, President Duterte has launched an almost endless tirade against journalists and media organizations, particularly those he has accused of being critical of his policies, most notably the bloody crackdown on illegal drugs.

Human rights groups, both domestic and international, have repeatedly warned about the shrinking space for dissent in the country.

Mr. Duterte and his allies, however, have shrugged off such criticisms as simply meddling in his government’s affairs.

Drilon’s call to House

At the Senate, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Saturday urged the House of Representatives to hold a hearing on the bills seeking to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise after Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano sought to defer the hearing purportedly while emotions were running high.

“We have a duty. And the franchise application is pending, and there is a March 30 deadline. It is in the public interest that it should be acted upon,” Drilon said in a radio interview in reaction to Cayetano’s statement.

The senator said the House could decide either way on the franchise, but it should act on it.

The opposition lawmaker noted the varying opinions on whether ABS-CBN could operate after its franchise expires on March 30.

One opinion states that while the bill for renewal remains pending, the network could still operate as long as the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issues a provisional authority allowing it to do so.

A contrary opinion, however, says that a franchise was needed for the network to be able to broadcast.

“Which is why I am saying this [franchise application] should be acted upon,” Drilon said.

Duterte attacks

“If [ABS-CBN] won’t be allowed [to operate], then so be it. But while this is pending, ABS-CBN’s continued broadcast will always be questioned especially if [it] will continue to operate on the basis of the provisional authority by the NTC, which could be withdrawn anytime,” Drilon said over dwIZ.

ABS-CBN has been the subject of tirades from Duterte, who accused it of not airing his political advertisements during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I will see to it that you are out,” Duterte had warned the network.

Malacañang has repeatedly claimed that the President had nothing to do with the SolGen’s quo warranto petition seeking to void the network’s franchise.

The House may be reluctant to hear the ABS-CBN franchise application, but the Senate Committee on Public Services chaired by Sen. Grace Poe on Thursday called for an inquiry in aid of legislation on the network’s compliance with the terms of its franchise.

Sub judice rule

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, however, warned on Saturday that the move could be sub judice because of the pending quo warranto petition.

He was not worried about the senators, but about the resource persons called to the hearing who could be parties to the quo warranto case, Lacson said.

Senators would be performing their oversight function in holding the hearing, but the resource persons might be asked to comment on the pending case and that might put them in a bind, he explained.

The resource persons could refuse to answer their questions and risk the lawmakers’ ire, or they could answer but risk being cited in contempt by the Supreme Court, Lacson added.

Drilon said it would be up to the resource persons if they don’t want to speak at the Senate hearing. Other witnesses could be called to speak on factual matters, he added.

But nothing can stop ABS-CBN from answering questions from the Senate since the latter’s purpose was to aid legislation, Drilon said.

“The network is free to express itself and to respond. I can assure [its representatives] that we can defend a petition for contempt with the Supreme Court,” he added.