Spokesperson Sal Panelo proclaimed Pres. Duterte does not want ABS-CBN to shut down. But Panelo’s statement is suspect given SolGen Calida’s filing of quo warranto petition in SC. Calida also wants the high court to gag ABS-CBN from exercising free speech. The administration is speaking from the two sides of its mouth.
Calida argues that ABS-CBN is a tax cheat and that foreigners have 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.” Here, it is clear ABS-CBN has a 25-year franchise granted by Congress in 1995, under Republic Act 7966, set to expire on March 30, 2020. And so Calida’s petition is premature.
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 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 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 the 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.”
Calida’s quo warranto may be ripe after March 30, 2020, once the franchise expires because ABS-CBN would be operating without a license then. But 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 power to take it away. To paraphrase Job: “the Congress giveth and Congress taketh away.”