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From legal to political

Judicial protocols are in place where these disputes must literally climb the ladder of the justice system starting from the lower courts.

Dean Dela Paz

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Recently, the Supreme Court (SC), acting on the petition for quo warranto filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) on various statutory issues surrounding the ABS-CBN Corporation, had dismissed at least one of the charges. The dismissal was not based on the merits of the issue, but on the fact that one particular controversy had turned moot.

It so happens that the particular issue in question is currently being prosecuted in another venue where it should correctly be tackled. The House of Representatives is the sole body responsible for granting franchises such as once enjoyed but now expired for ABS-CBN. Had the House done its job in a timelier fashion, the unnecessary firestorm surrounding the ongoing debate would have been avoided.

That franchise has since expired and such expiration compelled the National Telecommunication Commission to order ABS-CBN from continuing operations sans any authority. Needless to say, ABS-CBN bucked the issue and has availed itself of several legal avenues.

Quite a number of issues had been filed by the OSG with the SC and only one had so far been declared moot. This is the issue on the extension of its franchise. The other issues, from the question of 100 percent Filipino ownership, the alleged violations of franchise limitations, unlicensed businesses, to the continuing debate on the use of Philippine Depository Receipts as pseudo-equity vehicles to evade constitutional requisites, most essentially remain unresolved.

In fact, the recent SC decision declaring a specific issue moot involved no resolution at all. The merits were neither put to any judicial review much less a test.

For the OSG, the decision of the SC was long expected and should come as no surprise given the timing of the OSG in filing its petition and the rather belated stage that the House of Representatives had calendared the same issues the OSG had taken to the SC.

Everyone knew that there was a timetable that needed to be followed. A drop-dead deadline was the reality both ABS-CBN and anyone working either to extend or end it was the undeniable reality.

That deadline was a reality for the SC as well. Given a million cases on its plate, it does not take Clarence Darrow to figure out the eventual outcome of a petition belatedly filed, speeding at a hundred miles per hour, and just about to hit a brick wall.

While questions of the violations of a contractual agreement are rightfully the ambit of the courts when extrajudicial compromises cannot settle differences, judicial protocols are in place where these disputes must literally climb the ladder of the justice system starting from the lower courts. Again, given what’s on its plate, the SC is not predisposed toward leapfrogged cases brought before it.

As for questions of congressional franchises, the fact that the House has been statutorily charged to grant these indicates its political DNA. In its recent decision then, the SC simply and correctly shifted the ABS-CBN question from the legal to the rightfully political.

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