Bulatlat reiterates call to nullify NTC order, refutes NTC, NSC claims

Photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat

“The ATC is neither an indispensable nor a necessary party in this case as it does not have any involvement in the issuance of the assailed Memorandum,” said Bulatlat, pointing out that parties of interest are already impleaded as defendants in the case.

By Tisa Nacional

NAGA CITY – Online news website Bulatlat reiterated its call for the Quezon City Regional Trial Court to nullify the National Telecommunications Commission’s (NTC) order blocking access to its website in a latest memorandum filed on Monday, July 18.

The memorandum came after a hearing last July 13, in which defendants NTC, National Security Council, and former National Security Advisor and NSC Director Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr. raised several issues regarding the case, including the propriety of Bulatlat’s demand to nullify the NTC order.

Read: Bulatlat seeks to nullify NTC order on blocking of website

Through its legal counsel from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), Bulatlat argued that the nullification of the NTC order was the proper remedy for the case at hand because it was issued ultra vires. When an order is said to be issued ultra vires, it means that the issuing office has gone beyond its mandate and scope of power.

The NTC maintained that the order was issued through the exercise of its quasi-legislative function and rule-making power as provided by Section 15 (g) of Executive Order No. 546, which allows the Commission to promulgate rules and regulations in the interest of public safety.

However, Bulatlat countered that the NTC order in question could not hold as an exercise of this function because the Supreme Court defined quasi-judicial proceedings as involving an investigation of evidence, determination of facts, and rendering of a decision based on these facts.

“Clearly, defendant NTC was not hearing and determining questions of fact or performing in a judicial manner an act which is essentially of an executive or administrative nature when it issued the assailed Memorandum,” Bulatlat said.

“It did not investigate facts or ascertain the existence of facts, hold hearings, weigh evidence, and draw conclusions from them as basis for its official action and exercise of discretion in a judicial nature,” they added.

The news site also cited the order’s unconstitutionality and “outright violation” of press freedom, freedom of expression, and the right to due process of law as grounds for its nullification.

“All of these matters are the proper subject of an ordinary civil action for nullification of an illegal and unconstitutional act,” the memorandum read.

ATC not an indispensable party

Among the issues raised by the defendants was the exclusion of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) as an indispensable party in the case. An indispensable party is a party whose participation in a lawsuit is required in order for a court to render its judgment.

Esperon cited three ATC resolutions in his letter requesting the NTC to block access to the list of websites he provided.

The plaintiffs clarified that the ATC was not regarded as an indispensable party because it was not the office that issued the order and that Esperon made the request in his capacity as the National Security Adviser.

“The ATC is neither an indispensable nor a necessary party in this case as it does not have any involvement in the issuance of the assailed Memorandum,” said Bulatlat, pointing out that parties of interest are already impleaded as defendants in the case.

In its memorandum, Bulatlat listed the NTC as an indispensable party and the NSC and Esperon as necessary parties.

“[Esperon] acted with bad faith, wantonly, fraudulently, oppressively or in a malevolent manner against the Plaintiff, thus warranting the award of exemplary or corrective damages to vindicate Plaintiff’s undue suffering and invasion of rights and deter similar serious wrongdoings in the future,” the memorandum added.

Exclusion of Esperon’s letter as evidence has no basis in law

In the same July 13 court hearing, the defendants prayed that Esperon’s letter be excluded as evidence because of the ATC Resolutions he cited and their privileged nature.

Bulatlat countered the defendants’ argument, saying that the ATC resolutions cited in the letter were actually already accessible to the public after being published in the Official Gazette and in newspapers.

“ATC Resolutions are now matters within the realm of public knowledge,” it said.

In addition to the resolutions’ publication, Bulatlat also noted in its counter-arguments that Esperon himself issued a press statement confirming his request to the NTC, and that he could not invoke executive privilege without the authorization of the President.

Last July 13, Quezon City RTC Judge Dolly Jose Bolante-Prado denied Bulatlat’s petition for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the NTC order, saying there was “no suppression of the constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech” because its website could still publish news reports and was still accessible to the Court.

However, since the NTC’s order took effect, the number of Bulatlat’s website visitors continues to suffer a downward trend.

The hearing on the case’s preliminary injunction is set for August 2, 2022. Bulatlat is asking for a symbolic P1 in damages. (AMU, RVO) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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