The international human rights group Amnesty International yesterday urged Solicitor General Jose Calida to withdraw a Supreme Court filing seeking to impose a gag order on embattled media giant ABS-CBN.
The network has been fighting for its survival amid a sustained assault from the Duterte administration and its allies in Congress, both of whom have announced their intentions to strip the company of its operating license ever since President Rodrigo Duterte said he still harbored a grudge against the broadcaster for allegedly failing to air his 2016 campaign ads and for running stories which allegedly painted him in an unflattering light.
In a statement that appeared on its website, Amnesty’s Regional Director Nicholas Bequelin said that the latest request for a gag order against the broadcaster was a “clear attempt to silence critics of the government.”
Should Calida’s request be approved by the Court, it “would set a very dangerous precedent in violation of the right to freedom of expression. It is particularly reprehensible that the government is requesting to prevent people from freely discussing issues of public interest such as media freedom, and ongoing human rights violations in the country.”
“It is unacceptable for the authorities to blatantly attempt to restrict freedom of expression and then expect people in the Philippines to simply remain silent. If anything, the government’s continued efforts to undermine the press’s ability to report freely will only invite more criticism. The government would do better by listening and addressing what is driving such criticism rather than resorting to legal theatrics to suppress human rights,” he added.
Last week, Calida filed a petition before the Supreme Court, asking that it declare ABS-CBN’s franchise void on the grounds that it violated the terms of its license, as well as constitutional rules forbidding foreign ownership of media companies. After the network issued a statement denying any wrongdoing and published news stories pertaining to the licensing battle, Calida accused ABS-CBN of engaging in a propaganda campaign designed “to elicit public sympathy, sway public opinion, and, ultimately, to influence the resolution” of the petition.
This so-called campaign, Calida claimed, broke the sub judice rule, which prevents parties from commenting on an ongoing case, prompting him to request the court slap the company with a gag order.
Meanwhile, presidential spokesman and chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo has claimed that the gag order, if approved by the court, will cover everyone — including the celebrities who have lined up in recent weeks to express support for ABS-CBN. He said in a presser yesterday that the only people who would be exempted are lawmakers who will be involved in the ABS-CBN franchise hearings.
(That would, of course, conveniently apply to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, another self-professed foe of ABS-CBN, who in a lengthy, florid statement this week accused the network of “manipulation, disinformation, and deception.”)
Despite the network’s critics claiming the case against it is not a press freedom issue, ABS-CBN has possibly the biggest newsroom in the country and has produced investigative reports covering the government’s bloody war on drugs, the 2017 Marawi Siege, and poverty.
This article, Amnesty International urges Calida to withdraw ‘dangerous’ ABS-CBN gag order petition, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!