Rodrigo Duterte. Picture: REUTERS/ EZRA ACAYAN
Rodrigo Duterte. Picture: REUTERS/ EZRA ACAYAN

Manila — The Philippine government’s chief lawyer has asked the supreme court to forfeit the franchise of ABS-CBN, the nation’s biggest broadcaster, which has drawn President Rodrigo Duterte’s ire.

ABS-CBN’s permit should be revoked for violating the constitutional ban on foreign ownership in media by issuing deposit receipts to foreigners, solicitor-general Jose Calida said in a statement after filing a petition before the top court Monday. The petition was filed weeks before ABS-CBN’s congressional franchise expires on March 30.

The media company said Calida’s allegations were without merit, and that the filing of the petition was “ill-timed”, with Congress expected to hold hearings on the franchise. “ABS-CBN complies with all pertinent laws governing its franchise,” it said in a statement.

The state lawyer also said ABS-CBN went beyond the scope of its franchise when it launched a pay-per-view channel. “We want to put an end to what we discovered to be highly abusive practices of ABS-CBN benefiting a greedy few,” Calida said. ABS-CBN fell as much as 2.9% before paring losses and closing 1.8% lower on Monday. The Philippines’ benchmark stock index fell 1%. The broadcaster has lost more than 60% of its market value to 14.3-billion pesos ($280m) since Duterte first made his threat to block the franchise renewal in April 2017.

Duterte did not instruct Calida to file the petition against ABS-CBN and will let the law take its course, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said, according to a transcript of his interview with dzMM radio.

The president has been criticising ABS-CBN since 2017, accusing the network of bias and supposedly not airing his advertisements when he was campaigning as president. The president also told owners of the media company in December to sell as its franchise renewal remains uncertain.

Calida’s petition ignores press freedom and encroaches on Congress’ authority over franchises, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said in a statement. “This proves without a doubt that this government is hell-bent on using all its powers to shut down the broadcast network,” it said.