ABS-CBN franchise: House panel directive on provisional permit questioned in SC

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 05 2020 02:57 PM | Updated as of Mar 05 2020 04:30 PM

MANILA – Lawyer Lorenzo Gadon on Thursday filed before the Supreme Court a petition seeking to stop the House of Representatives from issuing a provisional authority to allow ABS-CBN Corp to continue operating beyond the lapse of its franchise in May.

Invoking his status as a “concerned Filipino citizen and taxpayer,” Gadon, a once suspended lawyer who is facing 4 disbarment complaints, also asked the high court to issue a temporary restraining order. 

Named as respondents in Gadon's petition were House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, House franchise committee chair Rep. Franz Alvarez and National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba.

Cayetano and Alvarez signed the February 26 letter which directed NTC to grant provisional authority to ABS-CBN Corporation, ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc., Sky Cable Corporation and Amcara Broadcasting Network, Inc. “to operate effective May 4, 2020 until such time that the House of Representatives/Congress has made a decision on [their] application.”

According to Gadon, the NTC has no authority nor jurisdiction to issue a permit to operate when ABS-CBN’s franchise expires on May 4 this year since its functions are “merely regulatory and supervisory.”

Citing a February 2003 Supreme Court decision penned by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, Gadon said authorizations issued by the NTC are only “in addition to the required congressional franchise.”

“[T]he application for Certificates of Public Convenience (“CPC”) with the NTC comes after securing a franchise from Congress. The NTC cannot issue a CPC unless there is a valid franchise,” the petition said.

Gadon pointed out Congress did not authorize Cayetano and Alvarez to issue the letter, repeatedly accusing the 2 lawmakers of ignorance of the law and their own rules.

He also claimed violation of the doctrine of separation of powers.

“It is only Congress, which can extend ABS-CBN’s franchise. This power cannot be passed on or delegated to an administrative agency, such as NTC, under the Executive branch…This is tantamount to extending the franchise of ABS-CBN, through an undue delegation of power” the petition said.

“If respondents Cayetano and Alvarez wanted to extend, or even renew, the franchise of ABS-CBN, they could have done it by conducting the proper committee hearings and decide, by a majority vote of all the Members of Congress, whether or not to extend, renew, or even grant a new franchise to ABS-CBN. It cannot do so by merely designating NTC to accomplish the ‘extension/provisional’ job for them,” it added.

Puno had clarified that Congress may authorize NTC to issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN, a view shared by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who added in his guidance to NTC that it may be done through a concurrent resolution.

NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios last week told radio DZMM they need to consult the Department of Justice on how to proceed since what they received from the House was not a resolution but only a letter.

The Senate on Wednesday passed a resolution “expressing the sense” of the chamber that it wants NTC to issue a provisional authority to the media giant.

In his petition, Gadon admitted he would not be directly affected by the grant of provisional authority to ABS-CBN but claimed the issue is of transcendental importance and there is public interest involved given the “far-reaching implications” of the petition.

In a statement, he said he filed the petition “for the sake of upholding the law, to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution, to remind Congress of the principle of separation of powers of the three branches of government, that no one shall encroach on the powers of another.”

The controversial lawyer became known for filing an impeachment complaint against ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and for calling the then top magistrate's supporters "mga bobo" (stupid) and flashing the middle finger at them outside the high court compound in Baguio City. 

He described himself as an “anti-bobo” crusader in his failed bid for senator in 2019.

Gadon also represented Peter Joemel “Bikoy” Advincula, the hooded figure in the viral “Ang Totoong Narco-list” videos, who filed a sedition complaint against Vice President Leni Robredo, former senator Antonio Trillanes IV and more than 30 others.

A DOJ panel of prosecutors junked the complaint against Robredo but filed conspiracy to commit sedition charges against Trillanes and 10 others.

Gadon also served as lawyer for Guillermina Barrido alias Guillermina Arcillas, the Davao-based businesswoman who accused Trillanes and 3 others of kidnapping with serious illegal detention.

At the time of filing the Bikoy and Barrido complaints, the Supreme Court had suspended Gadon for abusive language against a doctor and a fellow lawyer.

He voluntarily served his 3-month suspension starting October last year.
But he is still facing 4 disbarment complaints. 

These include one filed in 2016 after he allegedly said Muslims should be killed to attain peace in Mindanao. Another was filed by Wilfredo Garrido, Jr. over his supposed arrogance at the House of Representatives during the committee hearing on the impeachment complaint he filed against Sereno. 

Two other cases were filed against him after he cursed and raised the middle finger at pro-Sereno protesters in Baguio City at the height of quo warranto proceedings in April 2018.

He has brushed aside the allegations as baseless.

ABS-CBN also reported in October last year that Gadon had not been attending mandatory seminars for lawyers over the past 10 years.