Duterte hails 'vital role' of media as Calida moves to shut down ABS-CBN

MANILA, Philippines – Days after Solicitor General Jose Calida moved to void the franchise of the Philippines' biggest network, ABS-CBN, President Rodrigo Duterte delivered an ironic speech that sought to reaffirm his administration would uphold press freedom and the safety of journalists.

Duterte issued the remarks on Wednesday night, February 12, after he led the oath-taking of the newly-elected officers and board of trustees of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) in Malacañang.

"Throughout history, we have seen how mass media in the Philippines has shown a vital role in promoting an awareness on various social issues, disseminating critical information, and mobilizing for public action in times of national disasters and calamities, and ensuring accountability in government and other social institutions," Duterte said.

"Be assured that this administration will uphold equal protection of rights and your safety in the performance of duties," he added.

What case? Duterte's statement comes after Calida on Monday, February 10, filed a quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN at the Supreme Court (SC), only over a month before the network's franchise expires on March 30.

The Solicitor General also accused the broadcast giant of having foreign ownership, citing the network's use of Philippine Depositary Receipts.

Duterte had repeatedly threatened that ABS-CBN would lose its franchise after he accused the network of "swindling" him for supposedly not airing his paid political advertisements during his campaign for the presidency.

Despite this, Malacañang maintained Duterte was not involved in Calida's petition, which it claimed, was filed in keeping with the "duty" of the Office of the Solicitor General.

The Duterte government's move to strip ABS-CBN of its franchise has been denounced as a brazen attack on press freedom. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said Calida's move showed the government was "hellbent on using all its powers to shut down the broadcast network."

Open to criticism? Veering away from his prepared remarks, Duterte also said that while government officials were placed under scrutiny, "we should not begrudge anything that is publicized or brought out in public in your desire to perform your duties."

Yet Duterte himself has repeatedly denounced media he perceived to be critical of his administration. Aside from threats against ABS-CBN, Duterte often lashed out at the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Rappler for its coverage of his anti-illegal drug operations and other administration policies.

What began as threats of impending “karma” against the broadsheet ripened into a vow to file charges against the newspaper's owners over various business deals. Duterte had also targeted Rappler for its reporting, and moved to shut down the online news site by accusing it of foreign ownership and filing a slew of cases against it.

Going back to his prepared speech, Duterte said his administration would not "tolerate" any abuse of franchises granted by the government.

"While our Constitution upholds freedom of the press, the function of broadcast is a privilege granted by government. It is imbued with the best interest of the nation and our people. We will not tolerate any abuse of the privilege," he said.

ABS-CBN slammed Calida's claims and asserted it did not violate the law. – Rappler.com


Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.