Senator Grace Poe (left) and Senator Panfilo Lacson (right)

MANILA -- Two senators on Monday said Congress cannot stop the Supreme Court from hearing the quo warranto petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General against ABS-CBN Corporation, even if Congress has the mandate to grant or renew legislative franchises.

In a statement, Senator Panfilo Lacson said the two issues “is a matter of different jurisdictions.”

“The quo warranto petition is under the original jurisdiction of the Court. Approval or renewal of legislative franchise is the jurisdiction of both houses of Congress,” he said. “As such, I see no conflict in jurisdictions."

The veteran lawmaker cited the case of former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, whom the SC removed from office in 2018 through a quo warranto plea filed by the OSG over her alleged failure to fully disclose her wealth when she applied for the Supreme Court's top post in 2012.

Sereno was ousted from office despite an ongoing impeachment case against her in Congress.

Lacson explained that under Art VIII, Sec 5, Paragraph 1 of the 1987 Constitution, the Supreme Court exercises original jurisdiction over a petition for quo warranto filed by the state through the Office of the Solicitor General.

Under the said provision, Lacson said Solicitor General Jose Calida cannot be prevented from filing the petition against the broadcast network, but “Congress is likewise not prevented from exercising its powers under the same Constitution to act on the application for renewal or a new franchise which is now pending before the House of Representatives.”

'Separate powers'

Senator Grace Poe expressed a similar sentiment, saying that the judiciary and Congress have separate powers.

“Lest we preempt the court from deciding the case on its own merit, these issues are questions of facts which must be resolved by the court," she said in a separate statement. “I trust that the court will decide on the basis of fairness and for the interest of the greatest number of people".

But the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Public Services also pointed out that as the Constitution mandates “the Senate’s jurisdiction over franchises remains despite the existence of the petition."

Thus, Poe said she intends to tackle the issues concerning ABS-CBN’s franchise “in a fair and a deliberative manner."

Poe admitted, however, that her panel could not deliberate on the franchise until the House of Representatives finishes its own deliberations.

A bill seeking the renewal of the corporation’s franchise was refiled before the House last July but has yet to be calendared.

ABS-CBN’s franchise is expected to expire by the end of March this year, but Congress has only until March 11 to tackle the measure before adjourning.

Dahil malapit na nga ang expiration, baka mawalan naman ako ng prerogatiba kundi didinggin na lang 'yan kaagad para at least mabigyan ng pagkakataon, hindi lamang ang mga empleyado ng ABS-CBN, kundi yung mga nagrereklamo laban sa ABS-CBN na ilabas nila ang kanilang mga saloobin at ang kanilang mga pruweba (Because the expiration is near, I might have no other prerogative but to conduct a hearing immediately to at least give the opportunity, not only to the employees of ABS-CBN, but also to those who are complaining against ABS-CBN to air their sides and their grounds),” Poe said.

On the other hand, Senate President Vicente Sotto III declined to comment on the quo warranto petition.

“Considering the possibility of the franchise reaching the Senate, I would rather reserve my opinion on the matter,” he said. “I mean it might have an effect when we decide later should it reach us. Therefore, it’s prudent to not judge it."

Calida on Monday asked the Supreme Court to forfeit the legislative franchises of ABS-CBN Corporation and its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc. to put an end to alleged “highly abusive practices” of the broadcast network “benefiting a greedy few at the expense of millions of its loyal subscribers.”

Calida alleged that ABS-CBN has been broadcasting for a fee and operating a "pay-per-view channel in ABS-CBN TV Plus, the KBO Channel, without prior approval or permit from the National Telecommunications Commission."

He also claimed that ABS-CBN has issued Philippine Depositary Receipts to foreigners, alleging further that ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc. resorted to an "ingenious corporate layering scheme" to transfer its franchise "without the necessary Congressional approval."

Calida likewise alleged that the ABS-CBN subsidiary “also failed to publicly offer any of its outstanding capital stock to any securities exchange within the Philippines within five years from the start of its operations, which is an indispensable condition in its franchise." (PNA)