The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday, August 25, dismissed “on the ground of mootness” the petition filed by television network ABS-CBN Corporation which challenged the cease and desist order (CDO) issued against the firm by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) last May 5.
The May 5 NTC’s CDO prompted ABS-CBN to halt its broadcast operations nationwide on the same day it received the order. The television firm thereafter filed a petition with the SC challenging the stop-broadcast order.
Last July 10, Congress denied the television firm’s pleas to renew its franchise that expired last May 4.
In a statement, SC Spokesperson Atty. Brian Keith F. Hosaka said:
“The Supreme Court in today’s (August 25) en banc session, resolved to dismiss the Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition with Application for TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) and Injunction filed by ABS-CBN Corporation against the National Telecommunications Commission (ABS-CBN Corporation vs. NTC, GR No. 252119).
“According to the Court, in light of the supervening denial of the pending House Bills for the renewal of ABS-CBN Corporation’s legislative franchise on July 10, 2020, the Court finds it appropriate to dismiss the case on the ground of mootness.
“Because of this supervening event, there is no actual substantial relief which ABS-CBN Corporation would be entitled to regardless of the Court’s disposition of the merits of the petition.
“The Justices were unanimous in their decision to dismiss the petition, except for Justice Priscilla J. Baltazar-Padilla who took no part as she was on leave. Senior Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe was the member-in-charge of the case.”
A copy of the SC’s resolution or decision was not immediately available. Hosaka said the ruling once received by the PIO will be posted immediately on the website – sc.judiciary.gov.ph.
Last February or about three months before the expiration of the franchise, Solicitor General Jose C. Calida filed a quo warranto case to forfeit the legislative franchises of ABS-CBN and its subsidiary. The SC acted on the petition by requiring the television firm and its subsidiary to file their comments.
Among other things, the OSG cited the television company’s alleged “highly abusive practices… benefiting a greedy few at the expense of millions of its loyal subscribers.”
It alleged that “ABS-CBN has been broadcasting for a fee, which is beyond the scope of its legislative franchise.”
Also, the OSG said “the media giant, hiding behind an ‘elaborately crafted corporate veil,’ has been allowing foreign investors to take part in the ownership of Philippine mass media entity, in gross violation of the foreign interest restriction of mass media provided under Section 11, Article XVI of the Constitution.”
ABS-CBN denied all the OSG’s allegations as it pointed out that it fully complies with all the pertinent laws and regulations governing its franchise. It pleaded for the dismissal of the quo warranto case.
Last June 23, the SC declared moot and dismissed the quo warranto case with a ruling that the firm’s franchise had expired last May 4 and it had halted its operations.
However, the SC decided to retain for further study and resolution the case against the television firm’s affiliate, ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc., whose franchise had expired earlier last March 17. This issue is still pending with the SC.
In its petition against NTC’s CDO, ABS-CBN twice pleaded for the issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) which the SC did not grant.
In its petition, ABS-CBN said that the CDO was issued “without any prior notice or hearing in violation of the firm’s right to due process.”
“There is no urgent or paramount necessity for the issuance of a CDO. On the contrary, it is the closure of ABS-CBN that will cause serious and irreparable damage not only to ABS-CBN but, more importantly, to public interest,” it said.
Among other things, the television firm it has more than 11,000 employees, from 2016 to 2019 more than P14.3 billion in income taxes have been paid to the government, and the public needs the television firm’s services as the country grapples with coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“The closure of ABS-CBN would, therefore, deprive the public of one of the leading sources of news and entertainment, and would impair the people’s constitutional right to information on matters of public concern,’ it said.
NTC, on the other hand, sought the dismissal of ABS-CBN’s petition against the CDO.
In a comment filed by the OSG, NTC said that the petition did not comply with the rule on verification and certification against forum shopping.
On the substantive issues, the comment stated that the NTC is empowered to halt the broadcast operations of ABS-CBN with the expiration of its legislative franchise.
It stated that the laws require a congressional franchise and a license issued by the NTC for ABS-CBN to resume its broadcast operations.
At the same time, the NTC said that “the issuance of the CDO did not curtail ABS-CBN’s right to freedom of speech and of the press; and neither did it deprive the public of its right to information.”
“Thus, the petitioner’s alleged right to freedom of speech and of the press in relation to its broadcast operations becomes irrelevant because it had already lost its privilege to use the State’s frequency for such purposes,” it added.