The President need not instruct the heads of executive offices to fulfil their mandate as it is expected that they are to pursue their respective duties imposed upon them by law, rules and regulations. This is the case when Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court for the revocation of the legislative franchise of ABS-CBN earlier today, February 10, 2020.
Based on Rule 66 of the Rules of Court, it is the very mandate of the Solicitor General to file a special civil action of quo warranto against a franchise holder when he has good reason to believe that the latter has abused or misused its franchise. One cannot blame Solicitor General Calida for simply performing this legal obligation, as directed of him by the Rules of Court. Opting not to pursue the petition despite a reasonable belief that one has violated its franchise would, on the other hand, be equivalent to nonfeasance, thereby exposing the Solicitor General to prosecution for dereliction of duty.
Causing the forfeiture of a franchise is different from not granting a franchise. The former is exercised by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) in accordance with its legal mandate, while the latter is undertaken by Congress pursuant to its legislative powers. Jurisprudence even makes it clear that, “[t]he determination of the right to the exercise of a franchise […] is more properly the subject of the prerogative writ of quo warranto, the right to assert which, as a rule, belongs to the State ‘upon complaint or otherwise,’ the reason being that the abuse of a franchise is a public wrong and not a private injury.”
It is for this reason that members of the Congress need not fret as there is no encroachment upon their authority as a result of the recent undertaking by the OSG. Should they wish to grant ABS-CBN a new franchise or renew the same, then it is within their independent prerogative to do so. Similar to the petition filed against former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno while she was being impeached in Congress, the process of which was upheld by the Supreme Court in the case of Republic of the Philippines vs. Sereno, this recent quo warranto petition may proceed independently and simultaneously with any action of Congress to hear the possible granting or renewal of a franchise in favor of ABS-CBN.
The remarks of the President against ABS-CBN are utterances of displeasure as he felt deceived by the latter for receiving the former’s money for campaign advertisements without even airing them. These utterances are covered by the free speech clause of our Constitution and have nothing to do with the press freedom of ABS-CBN. Similarly, these remarks are immaterial to the revocation or non-granting of a franchise to ABS-CBN as these actions belong to the faculties of the Judiciary and the Legislative Branch, respectively, both of which are independent and separate from the Executive Branch that the President heads.
The clamor of some people for the continued operations of ABS-CBN should therefore not be addressed to the President nor to any official or agency of the Executive Branch. If they believe that the franchise should not be revoked, then they should address the same to the lawyers defending ABS-CBN in the quo warranto petition in order that the High Court may consider their positions. If, on the other hand, they feel that the franchise of ABS-CBN should be renewed, then they are free to lobby for it before their representatives in Congress.
Salvador S. Panelo
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel
& Presidential Spokesperson