By Rey Panaligan
The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday morning (Feb. 18) ordered broadcast network ABS-CBN Corporation and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc., to comment in five days on the plea of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) for a gag order on the quo warranto case filed against the television network.
A gag order issued by any court on a case pending before it prevents both parties in the case and their representatives to comment on or discuss the merits of the case, particularly through the media, and directly to the public.
This means the gag order, if issued by the SC, will apply both to the OSG and ABS-CBN and its subsidiary and persons acting in their behalf.
Under the rules, a violation of a court’s gag order is punishable with a fine or imprisonment, or both.
On the filing of the comment on the pleaded gag order, the five-day period is non-extendible and commences from the time ABS-CBN and its subsidiary receive the official copy of the SC resolution on the issue.
Solicitor General Jose C. Calida had earlier filed a quo warranto case to forfeit the legislative franchises of ABS-CBN and its subsidiary that are expiring at the end of next month.
The SC, acting on the petition, directed ABS-CBN and its subsidiary to file their comments within 10 days from receipt of the resolution.
Among other things, the OSG cited the television company’s alleged “highly abusive practices… benefitting a greedy few at the expense of millions of its loyal subscribers.”
It also alleged that “ABS-CBN has been broadcasting for a fee, which is beyond the scope of its legislative franchise.”
The OSG also said, “the media giant, hiding behind an ‘elaborately crafted corporate veil,’ has been allowing foreign investors to take part in the ownership of Philippine mass media entity, in gross violation of the foreign interest restriction of mass media provided under Section 11, Article XVI of the Constitution.”
Based on published reports, ABS-CBN denied all the OSG’s allegations, as it claimed that it fully complies with all the pertinent laws and regulations governing its franchise.
In seeking a gag order, the OSG told the SC that the television firm is “engaged in propaganda’ to influence public opinion.”
“However, not content with issuing its official statement on the petition, ABS-CBN thereafter engaged in propaganda in a clear attempt to elicit public sympathy, sway public opinion, and, ultimately, to influence the resolution of the case,” Calida said in the OSG’s motion.
He cited several videos which, he claimed, portray ABS-CBN’s propaganda to influence the outcome of the case.
“ABS-CBN’s actions violate the sub-judice rule restricting comments and disclosures pertaining to pending judicial proceedings. A violation of this rule may render one liable for indirect contempt,” he said.
He pointed out that the purpose of the sub-judice rule is to avoid pre-judging the case, influencing the court, and obstructing the administration of justice.
“Any grievances must be ventilated through the proper petitions, motions, or other pleadings before the courts. Our courts must be able to conduct its business in an orderly manner from outside interference and influence,” Calida said.
“Respondents belong to the biggest media conglomerate in the country whose artists and talents, impervious to the law, freely publish their comments. We want a gag order to be issued in this case so that facts can be decided upon evidence produced in court, and that the determination of such facts should be uninfluenced by bias, prejudice, or sympathies.”