Senators assert power over franchises amid OSG bid to gag parties in quo warranto case
MANILA, Philippines — Senators on Tuesday asserted the authority of Congress to grant or revoke legislative franchises as the government’s top lawyer asked the Supreme Court to silence ABS-CBN and other parties concerned in the quo warranto petition it filed against the broadcasting firm.
Solicitor General Jose Calida filed earlier Tuesday a motion asking the high court to stop ABS-CBN and concerned parties from discussing the quo warranto petition, which seeks to void the franchise of ABS-CBN.
Senate public services committee chair Senator Grace Poe said her panel will start tackling the franchise renewal of the network even without prior action from the House of Representatives.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a former justice secretary, said Calida’s bid for a gag order could not hold back Senate from conducting public hearings.
“The Supreme Court cannot prohibit persons to appear and testify before congressional inquiries in aid of legislation,” Drilon said in a statement.
“The petition cannot prevent the Senate from hearing the issues on ABS-CBN. The petition has no effect on the Senate,” he added.
He said that even if the high court issues a gag order, it would not cover the hearings in the Senate.
“Such gag order, if ordered, cannot serve as a prohibition for ABS-CBN to appear and testify before the Senate panel,” he asserted.
Drilon further emphasized that the Constitution and various jurisprudence have many times upheld the power of the Senate to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation and to exercise its oversight power.
He cited Section 21, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution which states that the Senate or the House of Representatives or any of its respective committees may conduct inquiries in aid of legislation in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure.
Senator Sonny Angara echoed this and said that a gag order could only cover certain topics and not the entirety of franchise renewal discussions.
“If there’s a gag order it’s only on particular issues siguro (maybe). You cannot put a gag order dun sa (on the) totality nung (of the) issue na (on) whether to grant a franchise or not kasi (because)… it’s not the power of the SolGen to grant the franchise, it’s the power of Congress, so you cannot stop us from talking about it ‘di ba (right)?” Angara told reporters in an interview.
“Yung issue ng (The issue on) whether to grant the franchise or not, hindi pwedeng i-gag ang Kongreso diyan (Congress can’t be gagged on that),” he added.
‘No compelling reason’
Senator Joel Villanueva, meanwhile, said he sees “no compelling reason” from the state to warrant the need for the issuance of a gag order.
“I think ang (the) question din diyan (also there) is what is the state’s compelling reason)? Because there has to be a compelling reason from the state to implement such a thing, that you are going to curtail my freedom of expression, the freedom to speak freely… I think it has to be established,” he pointed out in a separate interview.
“I think there is no compelling reason right now to do that. ‘Yun ang aking pananaw dito (That’s my view about this),” he added.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian likewise underscored the Senate’s oversight functions.
“In my opinion, since this is an exercise of oversight, meaning Kongreso ang nagbibigay ng (it’s Congress that grants) franchise… in light of its oversight powers, making sure that the franchise and the provisions in the franchise are being fulfilled by the franchisee, dapat ituloy ng Kongreso at Senado ‘yan (the House and the Senate should pursue that),” he told reporters.
As for Senator Panfilo Lacson, he expressed hope that should the Supreme Court grant Calida’s motion it would not include the Senate or any of its committees.
He pointed out, however, that the said motion may cover the resource persons “who will be invited to shed light on this instant case involving the franchise of ABS-CBN as they are not exempt from the sub judice rule, which covers litigants and witnesses, members of the bar and the public in general.”
Lacson warned that “they may run the risk of being cited for contempt once they express their opinions that might pose a clear and present danger in the administration of justice by directly influencing the members of the Court in rendering their votes to resolve the pending petition for quo warranto.”
But Poe assured to provide protection to the resource persons who may be invited to her panel’s hearing.
“We’re committed to protect our resource persons kung anuman ang kanilang sasabihin. Ngayon gaya nga ng sinabi ko, meron na bang nahatulan ang Korte Suprema sa pagsasalita nila dito sa Senado, wala pa naman,” Senator Grace she told reporters in an interview.
(We’re committed to protecting our resource persons on whatever they will say. Now, as I said, has there been anyone who was convicted by the Supreme Court for speaking before the Senate. So far, there’s none.)