While the country is still in a tailspin from the effects of COVID-19, Solicitor General Calida has singlehandedly managed to create another crisis to throw the Philippines into further instability. In addition to the potential constitutional or political crisis, Calida just added over 10,000 ABS-CBN employees to unemployment and poverty.
Calida argues that ABS-CBN is a tax cheat and that foreigners have an ownership interest in the company. Quo warranto, in general, is defined as “a legal action requiring a person to show by what authority he exercises a public office or franchise.”
If ABS-CBN owes taxes, the government should go to the Court of Tax Appeals for redress. That foreigners are shareholders of ABS-CBN, Calida should have filed a complaint in the SEC, which has jurisdiction over the regulation of corporations who are grantees of franchises issued by the government.
Calida’s petition is premised on disputed factual issues, i.e., whether ABS-CBN has a tax debt or whether foreigners own stocks, but the Supreme Court is not the proper forum since it is not a trier of fact.
Calida contends that SC should entertain the petition because the case is of “transcendental importance.” However, the SC in the case of Gios-Samar, Inc. v. DOTC, G.R. 217158, said: “The doctrine of hierarchy of courts dictates that direct recourse to this Court is allowed only to resolve questions of law, notwithstanding the invocation of paramount or transcendental importance of the action. This doctrine is…. a constitutional filtering mechanism designed to enable the Court to focus on the more fundamental and essential tasks assigned to it by the highest law of the land.”
Sen. Tito Sotto said that ABS-CBN can operate until March 30, 2022, since there is a pending bill to renew the franchise and the 18th Congress ends in 2022. By virtue of the principle of separation of powers, the SC (judiciary) and Calida (executive) should lay their hands off the ABS CBN franchise until the 18th Congress decides what to do with it until 2022. If Congress has the exclusive authority to grant the franchise; it also has the power to take it away. But Calida simply ignores the constitutional guardrails because he knows Duterte has his back.
The closure of ABS-CBN is part of the administration’s intention to curtail freedom of speech. From what it looks, the Philippines is heading towards martial law although some say it is already in a de facto martial law. The lockdowns imposed due to the COVID-19 enabled the administration to deploy the military with a legitimate public health reason. Now that the military is already deployed and ready, the Administration is a few steps towards the imposition of martial law.