Days after the state attorney moved to revoke the franchise of ABS-CBN, President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday recognized the importance of press freedom and vowed to protect journalists from harm.
He made his statement even as senators on Thursday expressed their support
for a resolution seeking to conduct an inquiry into the franchise compliance of ABS-CBN following the allegations made by the Solicitor General against the network.
READ: 17 senators close ranks for ABS
And a day after he said that congressmen were feeling pressure from the President
with regard to the renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN, Isabela Rep. Antonio Albano said there had been no communication from the President for or against the ABS CBN issue.
READ: House member bares Rody 'pressure' on ABS-CBN
“I never said that President Duterte directly pressured us congressman,” Albano, vice chairman of the House committee on legislative franchises, said.
“And I clarified that by saying that ‘In fairness to the President, he never called any of us congressmen and never issued any marching orders to tell us what to do.”
Duterte dared reporters to pursue the “truth” even if it destroyed him despite his repeated attacks against news organizations that he perceived to be critical of his administration.
‘‘Be assured that this administration will uphold equal protection of rights and your safety in the performance of your duties,’’ Duterte said as he led the oathtaking of the newly elected officers and trustees of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas.
‘‘Report to the public because you owe it to the republic to inform them. I’m just asking you to simply [report] the truth. If the truth will destroy me, so be it...if the truth will destroy me, that’s the price of being in public service.”
Senator Grace Poe, head of the Senate public services committee, filed a resolution on Wednesday that seeks to look into “the operations of ABS-CBN to determine its compliance with the terms and conditions of its franchise under Republic Act 7966.”
Poe believes the hearing will not preclude any action in the House of Representatives or the Supreme Court.
‘‘The issue on subjudice regarding legislative inquiries has long been resolved by the Supreme Court in Sabio vs. Gordon and in the cases that reiterate it: ‘‘On-going judicial proceedings do not preclude congressional hearings in aid of legislation’,’’ she said.
Duterte also recognized that government officials should not shield themselves from the scrutiny of the media.
‘‘We in government are really in a fishbowl. We should not begrudge anything that is publicized or brought out in public in your desire to perform your duties,’’ Duterte said.
His remarks came after Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition
against ABS-CBN at the Supreme Court, accusing the broadcast giant of having foreign ownership.
Duterte had repeatedly threatened that ABS-CBN would lose its franchise. His grudge against the network stemmed from its not airing his paid political advertisements during his 2016 presidential campaign.
The Palace has maintained that the Chief Executive was not involved in Calida’s petition, which it claimed was filed in keeping with the “duty” of the Office of the Solicitor General.
In his speech before KBP officers, Duterte said that broadcasting was a government-granted “privilege” that should not be abused.
“While our Constitution upholds the freedom of the press, the function to broadcast is a privilege granted by the government. It is imbued with the best interest of the nation and our people. We will not tolerate any abuse of [this] privilege,” he said.
Several media groups have expressed their support for the embattled ABS-CBN, and the journalists covering different beats such as Malacañang, justice, defense, and police, including the members of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, decried Calida’s move to shut down the broadcast network.
In a statement, the Malacañang Press Corps stood in solidarity with ABS-CBN and vowed to remain vigilant against attempts to “weaponize legal remedies and processes to suppress free expression.”
The Defense Press Corps called Calida’s petition an “attempt to intrude into a purely legislative power through the Supreme Court.”
“Calida’s attempt, while an overreach of his office’s function, is clearly a move to utilize the country’s laws as a tool for harassment and retribution,” the DPC said.
The FOCAP called on the Supreme Court to “side with the people’s right to truthful and independent news,” adding that the administration’s moves “politically harass and threaten a pillar of the media industry that employs thousands of Filipinos.”
‘‘ABS-CBN is a cornerstone of Philippine democracy and the free press for its independent and critical reportage and massive following in the country and abroad,’’ the FOCAP said.
Meanwhile, the Justice and Court Reporters Association expressed its disapproval of Calida’s act when he called out ABS-CBN reporter Mike Navallo in a chance interview Monday.
Calida told Navallo: “You’re always hitting me. You’re also a lawyer...Go back to practice. Let’s see each other in court.”
JUCRA said Calida “failed to rise to the exacting standards of his profession both as an officer of the court and as a ranking civil servant.”
We take it as an affront to our constitutional right to report. We believe that such veiled threats to reporters, especially when coming from a government official, have no space in a democracy,” the group said.
READ: House to ABS-CBN: You get fair shake
READ: ABS-CBN issues statement on OSG's quo warranto petition