Killed and shuttered ABS-CBN gets no help from Supreme Court

It's over at the Supreme Court – at least for now – for ABS-CBN's bid to turn back its franchise woes. The erstwhile media giant was killed and shuttered without getting any help at all from the High Tribunal.

The latest blow to the embattled broadcast behemoth came Tuesday, August 25, as the Supreme Court en banc junked the petition questioning the National Telecommunications Commission or NTC's cease and desist order that closed it down on May 5.

The en banc unanimously voted to junk the petition for being moot and academic, said Supreme Court Spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka, after the justices held a virtual session online Tuesday.

The petition questioned the NTC's cease and desist order, arguing among others that a provisional authority could have been given while franchise renewal hearings were still ongoing. It also argued that ABS-CBN was not given due process by the NTC.

But since the House of Representatives already killed the franchise of the broadcast network, "the Court finds it appropriate to dismiss the case on the ground of mootness," said Hosaka.

"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," said Hosaka.

It could have still ruled on merits

Even if it dismissed a case for being moot, the Supreme Court could always resolve the questions raised by the petition, in order to issue clarifying guidelines.

Court observers would have wanted the Supreme Court to do this for the NTC issue since, as Justice Menardo Guevarra had once put it, this fell under a "gap in the law."

Current laws say only Congress can grant a new franchise. No other body has this power, even if it is through granting provisional authority. But there is no clear provision in local broadcasting laws that contemplate a situation where a broadcaster, like ABS-CBN, is just renewing a franchise.

ABS-CBN's franchise expired on May 4, was closed on May 5, but its franchise renewal was only rejected on July 10.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen concurred but only with the result of the vote, because of mootness, but he issued a separate concurring opinion.

Had the issue not become moot, a source said Leonen would have voted to grant the petition because of grave abuse of discretion by the NTC.

The same source said that Leonen wrote in his opinion that the grave abuse of discretion of the NTC in issuing the cease and desist order should still have been ruled on because they have an impact on freedom of expression and right to information.

The Supreme Court earlier junked Solicitor General Jose Calida's quo warranto petition to void ABS-CBN's franchise, also based on mootness.

In an earlier interview, constitutional law professor Tony La Viña said the Supreme Court could have acted sooner.

"Before the House of Representatives acted on the franchise, this fell squarely on the Supreme Court's jurisdiction and it should have decided on the merits," said La Viña.

ABS-CBN continues to lay off hundreds of workers. It has also closed down regional news stations to keep the company afloat. They continue to air their programs over their social media channels.

Hosaka said Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe was the member in charge for the petition against the NTC's cease and desist order. Fourteen justices voted unanimously; newest justice Priscilla Baltazar-Padilla was on leave. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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