Last week, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a petition for quo warranto in the Supreme Court (SC), seeking the cancellation of the existing legislative franchise of the ABS-CBN broadcasting network. Calida argues that the cancellation is warranted because ABS-CBN violated the terms of its franchise. If not renewed by Congress, that franchise expires on 30 March 2020.
The SC ordered ABS-CBN to comment on the Calida petition within 10 days from notice.
As expected, Calida was criticized by anti-administration elements who claimed President Duterte, who has been very vocal against a renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise, was behind it.
ABS-CBN claims that the non-renewal of its franchise contravenes press freedom. There is also the emotional plea that 11,000 employees of the network will lose their jobs if the franchise is not renewed.
The President’s spokesman denies that the President had a role in the petition. He said it was well within the authority of the Solicitor General, as the lawyer of the Republic, to file the petition.
Since conflicting opinions about the Calida petition are bound to arise in the days leading to 30 March, some legal discourse may be in order.
A petition for quo warranto is the legal remedy by which the State prevents one who is disqualified for a particular elective or appointive public office, from assuming or holding that public office.
It is also the means by which the State can stop the operations of a franchise holder that violate the Constitution, the law, or the terms of its franchise. This way, the State is able to protect public interest.
The SC is vested by the Constitution with the power to issue a writ of quo warranto. Under Rule 66 of the Rules of Court, the Solicitor General is authorized to file the petition.
Likewise, under the Constitution, Congress has the power to issue legislative franchises. Jurisprudence posits that the issuance of a franchise is a privilege. It is not a right that can be demanded by anyone. Accordingly, Congress has the discretion to issue or not to issue, or to renew or not to renew, a legislative franchise.
Congress also has the constitutional power to modify or amend a franchise it has already issued, provided the modification or amendment is warranted by the public good.
Therefore, unless there is grave abuse of discretion on the part of Congress duly proved, the SC cannot compel Congress to issue a franchise or annul or amend one already issued by the latter.
The power of Congress not to terminate an existing franchise, or not to renew an expiring one, does not prevent the Solicitor General from resorting to a petition for quo warranto for the purpose of canceling a legislative franchise.
From a legal perspective, Calida intends to establish, through his petition for quo warranto, that ABS-CBN violated the terms of its legislative franchise.
If Calida succeeds in that regard, he not only gets to close down ABS-CBN; he also establishes that since ABS-CBN violated its franchise, Congress should not renew the network’s franchise. That’s because to renew the franchise despite proof of violations of the franchise will constitute grave abuse of discretion on the part of Congress.
It’s basic. A franchise holder which violates the terms of its franchise is not entitled to continue enjoying the privilege.
Therefore, if, notwithstanding the Solicitor General’s success in proving that ABS-CBN violated its franchise, Congress still renews the network’s franchise, then Congress shall have committed grave abuse of discretion in doing so.
In such an event, the Solicitor General, or any concerned citizen for that matter, may challenge the validity of the renewed ABS-CBN franchise before the SC, precisely on the ground that Congress committed grave abuse of discretion in renewing the network’s franchise.
That’s why the Calida petition is a strategic move.
The emotional appeal that an estimated but unverified 11,000 network employees will be jobless if the ABS-CBN franchise is not renewed is not a valid legal argument. While unemployment ought to be avoided, job security should never be at the cost of allowing a violation of the Constitution and the law.