Supreme Court dismisses ABS-CBN’s petition to annul the Cease and Desist Order issued by the NTC for being moot [ABS-CBN Corporation v. National Telecommunications Corporation (sic), G.R. No. 252119 (25 August 2020)]
In ABS-CBN Corporation v. National Telecommunications Corporation [sic], G.R. No. 252119 (25 August 2020), the Supreme Court dismissed the petition filed by ABS-CBN Corporation (“ABS-CBN”) seeking to annul the Cease and Desist Order (“CDO”) issued by the National Telecommunications Commission (“NTC”), which ordered ABS-CBN to cease and desist from operating its radio and television stations, in view of the expiration of ABS-CBN’s franchise under Republic Act No. 7966 on 04 May 2020.
In its petition, ABS-CBN claimed that the NTC should have allowed ABS-CBN to continue its operations pending Congress’ determination of whether to renew its legislative franchise based on the bills already filed therefor. ABS-CBN further submitted that the plenary power of Congress to grant a franchise necessarily includes the corollary power to define and preserve rights and obligations pending its final determination of the matter.
However, the Supreme Court found it appropriate to dismiss the petition for mootness, in view of the supervening denial on 10 July 2020 by the House Committee on Legislative Franchise of the pending House Bills for the renewal of ABS-CBN’s legislative franchise. The Supreme Court also noted that while two (2) bills for ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal are pending in the Senate, the Constitution provides that private bills, such as those on the grant or renewal of a franchise, must exclusively originate from the lower house of Congress. Accordingly, the issue on the corollary powers of Congress pending the renewal of these bills had already been rendered moot and no actual substantial relief can be granted to ABS-CBN regardless of the Court’s disposition on the merits of the petition.
The Supreme Court nevertheless stated that ABS-CBN failed to provide sufficient legal basis to support its theory on Congress’ corollary powers pending the determination of the renewal of its expired franchise, as it is clear under the law that a legislative franchise granting the privilege to broadcast programs through television and radio must be in the form of a duly enacted law. As emphasized by the Supreme Court, congressional deliberations on pending bills are not equivalent to a duly enacted law. Thus, absent a valid and subsisting legislative franchise embodied in a duly passed law, no such statutory privilege, even if temporary, can be enjoyed.
In the separate concurring opinion of Justice Marvic F. Leonen, he stated that, while he concurs in the result, he found the case capable of repetition yet evading review. On this note, he explained that he would have voted to issue a status quo ante order and declare that NTC gravely abused its discretion in its unprecedented issuance of the CDO. He opined that the CDO was issued with grave abuse of discretion as it was served on ABS-CBN without prior notice or hearing, thus violating its right to due process. Further, even if ABS-CBN’s permits were to be rendered expired ipso facto upon the expiry of the legislative franchise, ABS-CBN would still have the authority to continue, in light of the grace period that NTC itself gave in Memorandum Order No. 02-03-2020. Justice Leonen also stated that since the issuance of the CDO operated as a franchise denial, NTC preempted any action by Congress, even without having the delegated authority to do so.