Gag order on case vs. ABS-CBN necessary: Palace

MANILA — Malacañang on Tuesday deemed it necessary for Solicitor General Jose Calida to file a gag order before the Supreme Court (SC) to bar parties from issuing statements on the pending quo warranto plea against the franchise of broadcasting firm ABS-CBN Corp.

Speaking to Palace reporters, Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo backed Calida’s move because ABS-CBN’s franchise has become an “emotional” topic.

“Tama naman siya do’n kasi parang nagiging emotional ang issue on this particular topic (He’s right about that because the issue has become emotional on this particular topic). It’s much ado about nothing. It’s not about press freedom,” Panelo said.

Calida filed a very urgent motion for the issuance of gag order before the high tribunal, accusing ABS-CBN of engaging in “propaganda in clear attempt to elicit public sympathy, sway public opinion, and ultimately to influence the resolution of the case.”

He cited the statements issued by ABS-CBN, its artists, and other personalities with regard to the quo warranto petition.

Calida said ABS-CBN violates the sub judice rule which restricts parties, witnesses, the public in general, and most especially lawyers and judges from making comments and disclosures in relation to pending cases before the courts.

He said ABS-CBN’s propaganda may render them liable for indirect contempt.

Panelo said parties in the quo warranto plea should refrain from being engaged in public discussion.

“Because it’s pending before the courts. If it’s pending before the court, it becomes sub judice (under judicial consideration),” he said, when asked as to why the gag order was necessary.

Panelo said the gag order was meant to ensure that ABS-CBN’s discussions on the merit of the quo warranto petition would not have an influence on SC’s decision.

“Precisely, the gag order refers to not discussing the merits of the case because that will tend to influence the court,” he said.

Calida earlier filed a quo warranto petition before the SC, seeking the forfeiture of ABS-CBN’s congressional franchise due to the embattled media firm’s alleged “highly abusive practices” at the expense of millions of its loyal subscribers.

ABS-CBN, according to Calida’s plea, allegedly violated the 1987 Constitution when it allowed foreign investors to take part in its ownership by issuing Philippine Deposit Receipts through ABS-CBN Holdings Corp.

The 1987 Constitution states that mass media ownership is limited to Filipino entities or groups.

Gov’t officials exempted

Panelo clarified that the gag order does not apply to public officials as long as they do not “go to the merits of the case.”

“Like for instance, why are you filing this case? He can articulate on their grounds, that would not be violating the gag rule,” he explained.

He said lawmakers cannot also be stopped from asking questions that are related to the quo warranto case against ABS-CBN.

He, however, said resource persons invited by the Congress can be covered by the gag order.

Panelo also maintained that President Rodrigo Duterte did not order Calida to file the new plea before SC.

“The President has nothing to do with the petition, again we will repeat, of SolGen Calida. He’s just doing his job,” he said.

Duterte has repeatedly slammed ABS-CBN in his public speeches.

His grievances against ABS-CBN stemmed from the latter’s supposed failure to run his campaign advertisements during the 2016 presidential race.

Panelo, however, said Duterte’s personal displeasure with ABS-CBN and previous threat to shut down its operations “should not be taken literally.”

Duterte would not use his office to stop ABS-CBN from continuing with its service, Panelo reiterated.

“What he (Duterte) meant is he will not allow ABS-CBN to be committing fraud against those who contracted to air campaign commercials. That’s what he meant,” he said.

ABS-CBN’s franchise is set to expire on March 30 this year.  Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos/PNA –