Drilon: SolGen move to gag ABS-CBN will not prohibit it from testifying in the Senate

The move by the Solicitor General to gag the ABS-CBN Corporation, a day after the Senate decided to hear the renewal of the franchise of the broadcasting network, will not prohibit the Senate from requiring persons to appear and testify before it, according to Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Tuesday.

“The Supreme Court cannot prohibit persons to appear and testify before congressional inquiries in aid of legislation,” Drilon said.

“The petition cannot prevent the Senate from hearing the issues on ABS-CBN. The petition has no effect on the Senate,” Drilon stressed.

Drilon issued the statement amid the filing of a petition by the Solicitor General asking the Supreme Court to issue a gag order to prohibit ABS-CBN from releasing statements.

The SolGen’s petition was filed immediately after the Senate Committee on Public Services decided to hear the application for the renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN and the resolution filed by Drilon extending the validity of the franchise of the broadcasting network until the end of 2022.

The 25-year franchise of ABS-CBN is set to expire on March 30, 2020.

Drilon said that even if the Supreme Court issues a gag order, it will 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.”

Drilon 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. Under Section 21, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, 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.

In Senate Blue Ribbon Committee v. Judge Majaducun (GR 136760), Drilon said that the Supreme Court categorically stated that “no court has the authority to prohibit the Committee from requiring respondent to appear and testify before it.”

The same was the ruling in Romero vs. Estrada (GR 174105) where the court held that “(it) has no authority to prohibit a senate committee from requiring persons to appear and testify before it in connection with an inquiry in aid of legislation.”

According to the Supreme Court, a legislative investigation in aid of legislation and court proceedings has different purposes.

On one hand, courts conduct hearings or like adjudicative procedures to settle, through the application of a law, actual controversies arising between adverse litigants and involving demandable rights.

On the other hand, inquiries in aid of legislation are, inter alia, undertaken as tools to enable the legislative body to gather information and, thus, legislate wisely and effectively; and to determine whether there is a need to improve existing laws or enact new or remedial legislation, albeit the inquiry need not result in any potential legislation.

Thus, Drilon said “the fact that there is a pending case before the Supreme Court on the ABC-CBN franchise does not preclude congressional hearings in aid of legislation.”

The former justice secretary also cited the case of Camila Sabio v. Senator Richard Gordon(GR 174340), where the Supreme Court emphasized the importance of the duty of those subpoenaed to appear before the legislature, even if incidentally incriminating questions are expected to be asked.

Citing from the case, Drilon said that the “the unremitting obligation of every citizen is to respond to subpoenas, to respect the dignity of the Congress and its committees, and to testify fully with respect to matters within the realm of proper investigation.”

Drilon further said that it is the duty of the witnesses and resource persons to cooperate with the Senate in its efforts to obtain the facts needed for intelligent legislative action.