File photo shows Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.
The STAR/Geremy Pintolo, File
Only way for Congress to assert jurisdiction is to act on pending bills — Drilon
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - February 20, 2020 - 3:54pm

MANILA, Philippines — Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon asserted on Thursday the independence and separation between Congress and the Supreme Court amid calls for hearings on the legislative franchise of media giant ABS-CBN, which has been threatened by a quo warranto petition filed by government lawyers. 

In an interview with ANC's Headstart, Drilon argued that a quo warranto was not a legitimate way to revoke a franchise.

This came after Solicitor General Jose Calida requested the Supreme Court to issue a gag order disallowing ABS-CBN and its employees and affiliated personnel from publicly discussing the quo warranto petition. 

Calida argued that this violated the sub judice rule, which governs what public statements can be made about ongoing legal proceedings. 

On Monday, February 10, the Office of the Solicitor General accused the network of “unlawfully exercising their legislative franchises under Republic Act No. 7966 and Republic Act No. 8332” by, among other allegations, operating the Kapamilya Box Office pay-per-view service.

"Congress is the proper venue and has the jurisdiction, because whether or not the ABS-CBN has violated the terms of its franchise would have to be passed upon by Congress, because we are in the process of renewing it," Drilon said. "We are a separate and independent body and we can certainly assert that we have jurisdiction by conducting the hearing." 

"We are a co-equal branch, and we are not subordinate to the Supreme Court. So we can conduct our own hearings. As long as there's no constitutional issue, we can continue," he added. 

'Outside of Supreme Court jurisdiction'

Asked about the possibility of Congress filing a petition arguing its jurisdiction over the broadcast company's franchise, Drilon said, "We do not have to do that. We will just assert."

The minority leader also said that "[The sub judice rule] doesn't apply to us, because it is clear that the sub judice rule is applicable to court. In Congress, legislative hearings are not supposed to decide who is right or wrong. We are having our hearings in aid of legislation to assist us as to how to act on a particular matter in the exercise of our oversight functions."

Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro) in an earlier interview also with ANC's "Early Edition" expressed optimism that the petition would ultimately be dismissed by the SC, citing that the high court holds no jurisdiction over franchise matters.

A quo warranto, Latin for "by what authority," is a legal challenge on an entity's claim to a particular public office, position or franchise.

In this case, Calida's petition challenges the legitimacy of ABS-CBN's franchise which allows them to operate.

"The Constitution has given the power of franchises to the Congress. Solicitor General (Jose) Calida is wrong in usurping the power of Congress by trying to go to the Supreme Court," he said. 

The website of the House of Representatives lists that the House Committee on Legislative Franchise holds "All matters directly and principally relating to the grant, amendment, extension or revocation of franchises" under its jurisdiction.

"Hopefully their conscience will bother them if 11,000 employees would lose their job," Drilon said.

"Somebody said yesterday that I am playing politics by proposing a three-year extension, I say that if trying to save the jobs of 11,000 employees is politics, then I admit I am playing politics."

Freedom of the press 

"Inevitably freedom of the press will be involved, because in our mind, the cancellation of the franchise is not based on Constitutional issues but on something else," Drilon said, although he did not specify what this was. 

"And that has been mentioned by some of those who are supporting the administration that certain practices of the ABS-CBN is the last election were less than desired."

READ: Journalists: Quo warranto vs ABS-CBN 'legal gymnastics' to silence media

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said that he will see to it that ABS-CBN's franchise will not be extended, although the Palace has also said that the president, whose words often translate into policy, will not meddle in the affairs of Congress. Duterte has constantly singled out ABS-CBN, as well as media organizations including The Philippine Daily Inquirer and Rappler, for what he says is their insistence on publishing content that puts him in a bad light.

ABS-CBN in particular has received the worst of it, as the chief executive accused them of swindling him after they supposedly did not air his paid political advertisements while they aired anti-Duterte advertisements that were financed by his rivals instead.

In an earlier statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said that Calida’s petition is proof that “this government is hellbent on using all its powers to shut down” ABS-CBN, as journalists slammed what they said was an example of "legal gymnastics" being used to silence the media. 

Malacañang has denied that Duterte's ire for the media network was connected to any political vendetta, emphasizing the separation of powers between the two branches. But both chambers of Congress are dominated by administration allies and have historically voted favorably towards the president's decisions.

READ: Cayetano: 'Congress will be fair' on ABS-CBN franchise renewal

Media watchdog organization Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) in a statement released in June 2016 said that Duterte's moves against the network were signs of "congressional franchises [being used] as a weapon to control a free press."

"For a press used to politicians and their temperament, this is all par for the course. But what if a large and influential network – like ABS-CBN – owes its very existence to the government or, to be more specific, the now Duterte-controlled Congress?"

"Certainly, editorial content is not a ground for cancelling the franchise, because that smacks of violation of the freedom of the press and it can be even viewed as a prior restraint which is violative of the freedom of speech," Drilon said. 

ABS-CBN FRANCHISE OFFICE OF THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
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