“RESOLVED to approve the issuance of a restraining order to stop ABS-CBN or any other groups, its agents or representatives from conducting such exit survey and to authorize the Honorable Chairman to issue the same.”
The Resolution was issued by the Comelec allegedly upon “information from [a] reliable source that ABS-CBN (Lopez Group) has prepared a project, with PR groups, to conduct radio-TV coverage of the elections x x x and to make [an] exit survey of the x x x vote during the elections for national officials particularly for President and Vice President, results of which shall be [broadcast] immediately.” The electoral body believed that such project might conflict with the official Comelec count, as well as the unofficial quick count of the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel). It also noted that it had not authorized or deputized Petitioner ABS-CBN to undertake the exit survey.
On May 9, 1998, this Court issued the Temporary Restraining Order prayed for by petitioner. We directed the Comelec to cease and desist, until further orders, from implementing the assailed Resolution or the restraining order issued pursuant thereto, if any. In fact, the exit polls were actually conducted and reported by media without any difficulty or problem.
The solicitor general contends that the petition is moot and academic, because the May 11, 1998 election has already been held and done with. Allegedly, there is no longer any actual controversy before us.
Is the “moot and academic” principle a magical formula that can automatically dissuade the courts in resolving a case?
The issue is not totally moot. While the assailed Resolution referred specifically to the May 11, 1998 election, its implications on the people’s fundamental freedom of expression transcend the past election. The holding of periodic elections is a basic feature of our democratic government. By its very nature, exit polling is tied up with elections. To set aside the resolution of the issue now will only postpone a task that could well crop up again in future elections.
In any event, in Salonga v. Cruz Pano, the Court had occasion to reiterate that it “also has the duty to formulate guiding and controlling constitutional principles, precepts, doctrines, or rules. It has the symbolic function of educating bench and bar on the extent of protection given by constitutional guarantees.” Since the fundamental freedoms of speech and of the press are being invoked here, we have resolved to settle, for the guidance of posterity, whether they likewise protect the holding of exit polls and the dissemination of data derived therefrom.