CONSORTIUM ON DEMOCRACY AND DISINFORMATION on quo warranto vs ABS-CBN: “A parasite that feeds on weak justice system”

Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation condemns
Solicitor General’s quo warranto case against ABS-CBN

Vindictiveness is a malignant parasite that feeds on the country’s weak justice system. Following through on President Duterte’s deep-seated grievance against the ABS-CBN network and his repeated threats to shut it down, the Office of the Solicitor General has filed a petition for quo warranto with the Supreme Court, seeking the termination of the network’s legislative franchise.

This is deeply disturbing, because shutting down the largest media network in the country will not only cause the loss of thousands of jobs and affect the lives of millions who are loyal consumers of the news and entertainment produced by the network; it will be a terrible attack on press freedom, and on democracy itself.

That Solicitor General Jose Calida will abuse the quo warranto remedy, despite the constitutional fact that Congress retains the power to review broadcasting franchises, only underscores the grave threat this petition poses to our fundamental freedoms and our democratic processes.

The pattern is clear: The free press is under attack. The administration has attacked the Philippine Daily Inquirer, VERA Files, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and especially Rappler. It is attacking ABS-CBN.  To the rhetoric of intimidation and the infrastructure of disinformation, the administration now adds, through this quo warranto filing, another perversion of the rule of law.

As a network of individuals and institutions committed to democracy and engaged in the campaign to counter disinformation:

  1. We are disturbed that the quo warranto petition, based on the OSG’s own description, is based on patent disinformation about the use of Philippine Depositary Receipts.
  2. We are disturbed that, in a gesture of either impunity or macho posturing, Solicitor General Calida admitted after filing the petition that he had not yet read all the supposed evidence his office had accumulated against ABS-CBN—displaying the kind of conduct that allows disinformation to fester and injustice to undermine the democratic project.
  3. We are disturbed that, after filing the petition, Solicitor General Calida confronted ABS-CBN reporter Mike Navallo for what he deemed critical coverage. He told Navallo, who is also a lawyer: “Palagi mo akong binabanatan, ah, abogado ka rin pala” (You are always hitting me, you’re a lawyer too)—not only an inappropriate comment, but an unveiled threat. This harassment has no role in a democracy.
  4. We are disturbed that, instead of answering reporters’ questions, Solicitor General Calida merely mouthed, “Walang politics ito, walang politics [There’s no politics involved here, no politics]” as though that were enough to justify an out-of-the-ordinary legal action involving a franchise that would expire in a few weeks. That makes Solicitor General Calida’s unusual legal action itself political; that makes his no-politics statement blatant disinformation; and that makes the quo warranto filing a parasitic assault on press freedom and the rule of law.

The pattern is clear: The free press is under attack. We must fight back. #DefendPressFreedom. #StandwithABSCBN.