Guevarra counters Roque: Duterte can override NTC order vs ABS-CBN

Taking another contrarian position, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday, May 6, countered the presidential spokesperson and said President Rodrigo Duterte can override the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) order to stop ABS-CBN's broadcast operations.

"(President Duterte) may modify, amend, recall, revoke any order or any decision that might have been rendered by his subordinates in the executive department. He has total control of the executive department as Chief Executive," Guevarra told CNN Philippines' The Source on Wednesday morning.

This is the complete opposite of the statement of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque who said that Duterte's hands are tied when it comes to any NTC decision.

The NTC is a quasi-judicial body under the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

"Kaya ang ating kalihim na si dating senator Greg Honasan, gusto man sabihin ng Presidente na diktahan 'yang NTC, dahil quasi-judicial ang NTC, hindi po dapat pinahihimasukan ng kahit sino," Roque said in an interview over state-rin PTV4 on Wednesday.

(Because the NTC is a quasi-judicial body, no one should interfere in its affairs – even if the President wants DICT Secretary Greg Honasan to dictate upon the NTC.)

"Kung ang Presidente po ay makikialam sa NTC, ito po ay krimen. ito po ay paglabag sa Code of Conduct for [Government] Officials at labag din po ito sa Anti-Graft  [law] so hinahayaan po natin ang NTC na magdesisyon," said Roque.

(If the President intervenes in NTC, it would be a crime. It is a violation of the Code of Conduct for Government Officials and it also violates the Anti-Graft law so we should let the NTC decide.)

Responding to reporters' questions after the interview, Guevarra clarified that the NTC is not technically appealable with the Office of the President.

Asked in what form Duterte can override the NTC, Guevarra said: "It's useless to discuss this. The President has said that he will not interfere with the orders of the NTC."

Guevarra had taken a favorable position to ABS-CBN, advising the NTC that it could allow the broadcast network to operating while the franchise renewal is ongoing, but he had been grilled over his refusal to put down that advice in a formal legal opinion.

A legal opinion, although not legally binding on the requesting agency, can be used as a defense in a potential suit.

Guevarra reiterated that it cannot issue a formal legal opinion when a private party is involved, or in this case, ABS-CBN.

Guevarra also said the NTC, or even the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), are not bound by the Department of Justice or DOJ's advice. The OSG is attached to the DOJ for budgetary purposes. (READ: EXPLAINER: What are legal grounds for ABS-CBN to air after May 4?)

Quo warranto now moot?

Guevarra on Wednesday also went as far as calling Solicitor General Jose Calida's quo warranto petition moot.

"In my opinion, this has been overtaken by events already. In short, the franchise being attacked or assailed by the OSG has already expired last May 4, so for that reason, there's nothing more that is the subject matter," said Guevarra.

The Supreme Court is still deliberating on the quo warranto petition, which accuses ABS-CBN of multiple violations of its franchise clause, including alleged illegal mergers with franchise holders, which Calida claimed skirted strict franchise rules.

"My opinion (is) since it's the original franchise that is being assailed, then it has become moot. Because regardless of the outcome it has already expired so there's nothing to revoke anymore," said Guevarra.

ABS-CBN went off air 7:52 pm Tuesday, May 5, the first time it had done so since Ferdinand Marcos' martial law. 

It continues to air over cable channel ANC. They are also continuing to publish content on its website and social media platforms. – 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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