4. Abs Cbn vs Ombusdman

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  G.R. No. 133347 October 15, 2008   ABS-CBN BROADCASTING CORPORATION, EUGENIO LOPEZ, JR., AUGUSTO ALMEDA-LOPEZ, and OSCAR M. LOPEZ,  petitioners, vs. OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN, ROBERTO S. BENEDICTO, *   EXEQUIEL B. GARCIA, MIGUEL V. GONZALES, and SALVADOR (BUDDY) TAN , *  respondent. D E C I S I O N NACHURA,  J. :  At bar is a petition for certiorari   under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court challenging the Joint Resolution 1  dated May 2, 1997 of then Ombudsman Aniano Desierto in OMB-0-94-1109, dismissing the complaint filed by petitioners against private respondents, and the Order 2  denying their motion for reconsideration. This case stems from an all too familiar chapter in Philippine history, i.e ., the declaration of martial law by then President Ferdinand Marcos and the simultaneous sequestration of not a few private corporations, including one of the petitioners herein, ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation (ABS-CBN). On April 18 and 26, 1994, petitioners Eugenio, Jr., Oscar and Augusto Almeda, all surnamed Lopez, as officers and on behalf of ABS-CBN, executed separate complaint-affidavits charging private respondents Roberto S. Benedicto, Exequiel B. Garcia, Miguel V. Gonzalez, and Salvador (Buddy) Tan with the following crimes penalized under the Revised Penal Code (RPC): (a) Article 298 - Execution of Deeds by Means of Violence or Intimidation; (b) Article 315 paragraphs 1[b], 2[a], 3[a] - Estafa; (c) Article 308 - Theft; (d) Article 302 - Robbery; (e) Article 312 - Occupation of Real Property or Usurpation of Real Rights in Property; and (f) Article 318 - Other Deceits. Individual petitioners' complaint-affidavits 3  uniformly narrated the following facts: 1. The day after the declaration of martial law, or on September 22, 1972, just before midnight, military troops arrived at the ABS-CBN Broadcast Center in Bohol Avenue, Quezon City, and informed the officers and personnel thereat of the seizure and closure of the premises by virtue of Letter of Instruction (LOI) No. 1 issued by President Marcos ordering the closure of all radio and television stations in the country. 2. LOI No. 1 authorized the Secretary of National Defense to take over or control, or cause the taking over and control of all x x x newspapers, magazines, radio and television facilities and all other media of communications throughout the country. Consequently, a total of seven (7) television stations owned and operated by ABS-CBN were closed down by the government. 4  3. When it became apparent that petitioners would not be granted a permit to re-open, ABS-CBN on October 31, 1972, terminated the services of all its employees, giving each employee his/her retirement benefits. Corollary thereto, sometime in November 1972, Eugenio Lopez, Jr., then president of ABS-CBN, wrote then Secretary of National Defense, Juan Ponce Enrile, 5  of their desire to sell ABS-CBN to the  government. In that same month, however, Eugenio Lopez, Jr. was arrested by the military, and detained at Fort Bonifacio for almost five (5) years until his escape therefrom on September 30, 1977. 4. Subsequently, after the proposal to sell ABS-CBN to the Marcos government did not materialize, ABS-CBN started negotiations with then Governor of Leyte, Benjamin Kokoy Romualdez, who expressed his desire and intention to acquire the former. However, the negotiations with Kokoy Romualdez in 1973 likewise did not result in the sale and re-opening of ABS-CBN. 5. On June 6, 1973, the television and radio stations of Kanlaon Broadcasting System (KBS) on Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City were consumed by fire. KBS was the umbrella corporation of the Benedicto Group of broadcasting companies, including Radio Philippines Network (RPN), 6  which operated TV Channel 9, the only television station allowed to continue operating during the early years of the martial law regime. Respondent Benedicto, then Philippine Ambassador to Japan, managed, controlled, and was one of the principal stockholders of RPN. 6. On even date, both Benedicto and Alfredo Montelibano, who at that time was Chairperson of the Board of Directors (BOD) of ABS-CBN, were in Bacolod. Benedicto constituted Montelibano as his emissary to the Lopezes, relaying his plan to temporarily use ABS-CBN's broadcast studios in Quezon City, from which to operate TV Channel 9, for such period of time as may be necessary to rebuild KBS' burned studios. 7. On June 8, 1973, Montelibano met with other officers and executives of ABS-CBN, including herein petitioners Oscar and Augusto Lopez, informing them of Benedicto's request. Oscar and Augusto, and the rest of the ABS-CBN management team, strongly opposed the request. Eventually, however, when Montelibano mentioned that Malacañang and Romualdez had cleared said request, the possibility of a government-ordered confiscation of ABS-CBN, and not least of all, the possible release of Eugenio Lopez, Jr., petitioners Oscar and Augusto, as with the rest of ABS-CBN's executives, acquiesced to Benedicto's request. 8. Thus, at noontime on the same day, representatives of KBS headed by Jose Montalvo arrived at the Meralco Building to finalize the proposed arrangement with ABS-CBN. The transaction between ABS-CBN and KBS is evidenced by a letter-agreement dated June 8, 1973, which reads in relevant part: This is to confirm the agreement arrived at between RPN and ABS-CBN to the following effect: 1. Commencing on the date hereof, ABS-CBN hereby conveys to RPN by way of lease its TV and radio equipment (excluding TV channels and radio frequencies) and its premises at the ABS-CBN Broadcast Center, Bohol Avenue, Quezon City (collectively called the leased facilities ) listed in the schedule attached hereto and marked as Annex A . 2. RPN shall pay ABS-CBN monthly rental as is reasonable compensation for the use of the leased facilities. The amount of the rental shall be determined after a discussion with Ambassador Roberto Benedicto. 3. The term of this lease shall commence on the date hereof and continue for such reasonable time as may be normally necessary for the rehabilitation of RPN's facilities unless an earlier period may be fixed by RPN and ABS-CBN after discussion with Ambassador Benedicto.  4. RPN hereby assumes full and complete responsibility for the leased facilities and shall be answerable for any and all losses and damages to such facilities. x x x x 6. Upon termination of this lease, RPN shall return the possession of the leased facilities to ABS-CBN and vacate the same without the need of notice or demand. 7. ABS-CBN, through its Chairman, Mr. Alfredo Montelibano, shall have the right to select and designate the personnel (not to exceed 20 at any one time) to maintain and operate all specialized TV and radio equipment. x x x x 10. ABS-CBN shall have the right to enter the Broadcast Center at any reasonable time during the term of this lease for the purpose of determining compliance by RPN of the terms hereof. x x x x 12. RPN shall not, without the prior written consent of ABS-CBN, sub-lease the leased facilities or any part thereof nor shall any part be removed from the premises except the equipment, which are intended for operation the Broadcast Center in due course of operations. 9. Meanwhile, it appears that the parties were hard pressed to negotiate and fix the monthly rental rate. Several attempts by Oscar to set up a meeting with Benedicto for the fixing of the monthly rentals proved unsuccessful. 10. After more than four months of trying, a meeting between Oscar and Benedicto finally materialized on October 31, 1973. At that meeting, the discussion not only covered fixing of reasonable rentals for the lease of the ABS-CBN studios, but likewise included the possibility of an outright sale. 11. Thereafter, the discussions and negotiations stopped as none of the petitioners were able to meet anew with Benedicto who had supposedly referred the matter to people above and the man on top. 12. Frustrated, then Senator Lorenzo Tañada, as counsel for ABS-CBN, in May 1976, wrote Benedicto demanding vacation of the ABS-CBN Broadcast Center and payment of back rentals for the use of the ABS-CBN studios and facilities. 13. In response, Senator Estanislao Fernandez, on behalf of Benedicto, met with Senator Tañada in June 1976. Another meeting took place between the parties' respective counsels which included respondent Gonzales, another counsel for Benedicto. Despite these meetings, no agreement was reached between Benedicto and ABS-CBN. On the whole, from June 8, 1973, the time KBS occupied the ABS-CBN studios in Quezon City, no rental was paid by the former to the latter. 14. In the years following until the Marcos government was toppled in 1986, the ABS-CBN stations were transferred to the National Media Production Center (NMPC) headed by Gregorio Cendaña of the Ministry of Information. Starting in January 1980, KBS, on a staggered basis, transferred possession,  control and management of ABS-CBN's provincial television stations to NMPC. Some of the radio stations of ABS-CBN were turned over to the government's Bureau of Broadcast, while some were retained by KBS thru the Banahaw Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Radio Philippines Network (RPN). 15. Parenthetically, during a military inventory in 1979-1980, and a visit by ABS-CBN executives at ABS-CBN's radio transmitting stations in Meycauayan, Bulacan, headed by petitioner Augusto, on August 13, 1984, ABS-CBN properties and massive equipment were found to be missing. In addition, the musical records and radio dramas accumulated by ABS-CBN in a span of twenty-five (25) years and stored in its library were now gone. 16. In June 1986, President Corazon Aquino, acting on the request of ABS-CBN through Senator Tañada, returned to ABS-CBN these radio and TV stations on a gradual and scheduled basis. As required by the Ombudsman, the respondents, except for Garcia, filed their respective counter-affidavits, 7  with Benedicto adopting that of Gonzales', denying petitioners' charges, and averring that: 1. The execution of the June 8, 1973 letter-agreement was a free and voluntary act of ABS-CBN which agreed thereto fully expecting remuneration in the form of rentals, thus: 2. RPN shall pay ABS-CBN monthly rental as is reasonable compensation for the use of the lease facilities. The amount of the rental shall be determined after a discussion with Ambassador Roberto Benedicto. 2. In that regard, respondent Gonzales, counsel for KBS, RPN and Benedicto, participated in the negotiations and was present at three (3) meetings for the fixing of rentals. Also in attendance were former Senator Estanislao Fernandez, specially engaged to represent RPN and Benedicto, and Senator Tañada and petitioner Augusto for ABS-CBN. 3. Initially, the discussions centered on the possible formulas for the fixing of rentals. Later on, however, before an agreement on the rental rate could be reached, the discussions shifted to the possibility of an outright sale. The discussions on the sale were expanded as various creditors of ABS-CBN had made and presented claims before respondent Garcia, then Comptroller of KBS-RPN. 4. However, the discussions were discontinued when then Secretary of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile reminded KBS of the sequestered status of ABS-CBN facilities such that arrangements undertaken for the use and lease thereof should be taken up with the government. 8  5. Meanwhile, in July 1974, Secretary Ponce Enrile authorized KBS, acting on behalf of BBC, to make use of the ABS-CBN provincial stations which were not covered by the June 8, 1973 letter-agreement. The authorization was granted in connection with the increased undertakings assigned by the Department of National Defense (DND) to KBS, specifically, for the government's mass-media developmental peace and order nationwide campaign. 7. Thereafter, in October 1977, RPN vacated the ABS-CBN studios and turned over the properties to George Viduya, the general manager of the government station GTV-4. Viduya continued operations of GTV-4 at the ABS-CBN properties, after which, the properties were all delivered in 1979 to the NMPC headed by Cendaña. The provincial stations were delivered and turned over on a staggered basis, with
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