MANILA -- Solicitor General Jose Calida on Tuesday denied allegations he meddled with Congress' instructions to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to grant ABS-CBN Corp. a provisional authority when he told the regulatory body to instead issue a cease and desist order.
"Warning or cautioning a client is not threatening. He (Calida) never mentioned the name of Speaker Cayetano and any congressman in his advisory letter to NTC and subsequent press release," he said in a statement released to the media.
Calida said the April 30 letter of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) merely "advised" NTC that "a provisional authority cannot be issued in the absence of a law."
He explained that the letter warned NTC of "possible encroachment on legislative power" if the NTC issues a provisional authority without a law authorizing it, which supposedly shows that Calida "is not at loggerheads with Congress."
But a copy of the OSG's letter obtained by ABS-CBN News showed that Calida not only told NTC that it should issue a cease and desist order, it also warned NTC commissioners of prosecution under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act if they issue a provisional authority.
The same letter also discredited the position of the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Senate and the House of Representatives Franchise Committee on NTC's issuance of a provisional authority to ABS-CBN.
"The House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Franchises Letter dated February 26, 2020 and Senate Resolution No. 34413 both urging the NTC to issue a PA [provisional authority] to ABS-CBN Corporation and its subsidiaries or affiliates are erroneous and not binding,” Calida said in the letter also signed by 6 assistant solicitors general.
The letter also dismissed the view taken by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra that “equity” can fill the gap in the law. The justice chief had said no law governs public utilities seeking renewal of their franchise but who are unable to secure one without their fault.
Calida stood by this position in Tuesday's statement.
"In the letter, the Solicitor General stated that principle of equity cannot be applied because there is no perceivable gap in law as regards the legality of the operations of an entity after its franchise expires," he said.
"Equity is available only in cases where there is an absence of law and not as its replacement. It is described as justice outside legality, which simply means that it cannot supplant although it may, as often happens, supplement the law," he added.
NO FIGHT WITH CONGRESS
No less than House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano lambasted Calida in a speech in the House of Representatives last Wednesday, claiming that Calida “unconstitutionally meddled in the exclusive powers of Congress” and chose “to remain silent for close to two months, and on the eve of the opening of Congress, come out with threats to NTC.”
But Calida insisted the letter only formalized the legal advice it verbally gave the NTC.
"Actually, the Solicitor General acted with circumspection because voicing out his concerns to Congress without being requested by it would have constituted meddling in its affairs, apart from the fact that the issues he is raising are sub judice. The Solicitor General had already filed a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court to question ABS-CBN’s violations of its old franchise. That is where any arguments regarding the media firm’s violations should be heard," he said.
"In addition, NTC is part of the executive branch, whose statutory counsel is the Solicitor General. Congress belongs to a different department. There is no rule requiring the Solicitor General to give notice to a different branch of government of an internal communication intended for a client in the executive branch," he added.
Calida said there is no reason for him to "pick up a fight with Congress," saying he agrees with Cayetano on the need to conduct "an impartial, fair, and thorough investigation to ventilate all issues for or against the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise," repeating the allegations in the quo warranto petition and adding issues on tax evasion and citizenship of former ABS-CBN Eugenio Lopez III.
ABS-CBN has addressed these allegations during a Senate hearing in February.
NO-SHOW AT SENATE HEARING
In the same statement, Calida also said he declined to attend Tuesday's Senate hearing on the ABS-CBN franchise saying the issues that will be discussed are "sub judice" or under consideration by the court and cannot be discussed in public.
Calida filed in February this year a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court against ABS-CBN Corporation and ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc. alleging violations of their franchises. SC has yet to act on that petition.
He also invoked OSG's role as statutory counsel of the NTC in the TRO plea filed by ABS-CBN against NTC also before the Supreme Court.