Congress can intervene in ABS-CBN franchise challenge before SC: ex-spokesman

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 20 2020 08:49 AM | Updated as of Feb 20 2020 09:08 AM

Members of Defend Jobs Philippines join press freedom advocates and supporters during a solidarity event calling for the renewal of the ABSCBN franchise along Sgt. Esguerra Avenue, Quezon City on February 14, 2020. Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Congress can intervene in the Solicitor General's petition questioning ABS-CBN Corp's franchise before the Supreme Court, a former spokesman of the high court said Thursday.

The Constitution grants the power to review franchises to Congress, according to former Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te.

"You have a question of separation of powers. Can a Solicitor General come in to question a franchise granted by Congress without even including Congress?" he told ANC's Early Edition.

"If Congress truly wants to assert its power to review franchises, not just of ABS-CBN, as a matter of principle perhaps Congress should intervene. They can file a case, a petition to intervene in the quo warranto case."

Te cited the Senate's intervention in President Rodrigo Duterte's unilateral move to withdraw the country from the International Criminal Court after it launched a preliminary examination into alleged killings under his administration.

The Senate is also considering to question before the high court the executive's abrogation of the country's Visiting Forces Agreement with the US.

The Solicitor General's quo warranto petition came despite 11 pending bills seeking an extension of ABS-CBN’s franchise, which will expire on March 30

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SUB JUDICE RULE

Te said the court has yet to decide to take on the quo warranto case and so the sub judice rule, which prohibits parties from making remarks that may unduly influence the case, cannot be applied yet.

The quo warranto petition is also pending before the high court's justices, not a jury who could be swayed, he added.

"We have a division of justices or an en banc panel of justices in the Supreme Court, all of whom are lawyers, all of whom are presumed to be expert in the law…and therefore should not be duly influenced by utterances made in social media, traditional media and otherwise," he said.

"I don’t think the justices of the Supreme Court would admit to being so unduly influenced by what they watch perhaps on ABS-CBN that they would agree to a gag order."

Should the gag order be granted, it would prohibit ABS-CBN lawyers, employees, celebrities to make a statement on the quo warranto petition, Te said.

The court, however, has "almost uniformly sided with freedom of the press," he added.

"As far as media is concerned, courts are a bit wary of issuing a gag order per se because you have the constitutional guarantee in favor of freedom of the press, freedom of expression," Te said.

"The motion brings with it a heavy burden of proving you can gag someone from saying something without hearing it."