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The bedrock of democracy

/ 05:03 AM February 27, 2020

Swedish democracy is based on a single premise — the right to free speech. Every other basic right, such as the formation of government and the right to freedom of organization, are simply extensions of the right to free speech. On this law, democracy stands or falls.Sweden is one of the most advanced countries in the world, ranking near the top on almost every measure.

We are, sadly, down near the bottom on almost every measure. But one where we’re not is freedom of speech. It’s enshrined in our Constitution, viz: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” It’s enshrined in our daily living.It was staunchly so not only because of inculcation by the Americans in their colonization, but also in fierce reaction to the repressions under Marcos. “Never again” was the mood of the immediate post-Marcos era.

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So it’s disappointing that Congress has let us down in its non-passage of the proposed Freedom of Information Act. This measure is part of our freedom of speech, it’s freedom of access to all public records of what the government we elect is doing. President Duterte recognized this when he issued Executive Order No. 2 in 2016 soon after he came into office, ordering the executive branch to release information on request. But it needs institutionalizing, so some later government can’t rescind it and so the other branches of government — the courts and Congress—are required to be open, too.

I’m therefore not too concerned that Mr. Duterte is angry at ABS-CBN. They treated him poorly during his campaign, he believes, and have not treated him well in their newscasts. So he’s pissed off, as would be most of us. But from what I’ve gathered, they did air all his national campaign ads. It was only a few regional ads that didn’t air, and they were submitted with little notice and no time for ABS-CBN to schedule. They’ve now apologized for any lapses.

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As to a negative approach to his presidency, that’s what media is all about. It’s the watchdog of a democratic society. And bad news sells. The public loves scandals and exposés. They adore criticism of almost anything. I don’t think it’s Mr. Duterte’s intent to close ABS-CBN down, but merely to express his personal anger at not having some of his ads aired, and annoyance that they don’t treat him better.

But, as President, he knows the rules of the game are such as to just live with the negative press. Be personally hurt, but presidentially unconcerned.

So I’m disappointed and worried that the House of Representatives is not doing its job as our representatives, and seems in no rush to do anything much about it. It’s known since its inception that this franchise would be due for renewal on May 4, 2020 . It has had plenty of time to act, but it hasn’t. Voters want and demand that the ABS-CBN franchise should continue. It’s the most popular and most widely watched channel on TV.

The Senate understands this. Sen. Grace Poe has filed a resolution calling for a review and discussion of ABS-CBN’s compliance with the requirements of its franchise. Several senators have expressed support. By the way, I note that Poe wants to amend the franchise so it will be clear in the future that broadcast companies could still operate while Congress is deliberating beyond the term of the franchise. Surely, it’s better to mandate in the law that Congress must decide before a franchise expires. It has more than sufficient time to do so.

So why aren’t they rushing to give the people what they want? Why the cavalier approach? Maybe ABS-CBN can continue without a franchise if the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) says so. But why work on a questionable assumption when you didn’t need to? It’s an assumption that could be and probably would be challenged in the Supreme Court. It’s supremely unnecessary.

The ABS-CBN franchise must be renewed if the Philippines is to remain a leader in free speech in Asia — a leadership we can be proud of. Congress has until May 4 to renew the franchise, and it should. I don’t think the President will mind, particularly after the apology.

Email: [email protected]

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TAGS: ABS-CBN franchise, democracy, Like It Is, Peter Wallace
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