Harbinger of return to authoritarianism
The debacle over the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise is not about the network’s sins of commission and omission. It is about the pleasure of one man.
The President has made no secret of his ire against ABS-CBN because of its failure to air his political advertisements in the 2016 campaign. He has made no secret of his view that ABS-CBN is an instrument of the opposition, notwithstanding that many of its television and radio personalities support him and have expressed this support over the network’s airwaves.
The order of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) for the network to go off the air is trumpeted as a triumph of the rule of law. That rule of law is a travesty, an example of how the administration has manipulated the law to strengthen the executive’s arbitrary power.
The only reason ABS-CBN has no franchise now is that the President repeatedly declared he would not allow its renewal, while coyly saying the decision was up to Congress. The sycophants pretending to be legislators in Congress understood the veiled message. They also understood there was no justifiable reason to deny the franchise’s renewal, and that if they denied it, there would be opposition from ABS-CBN fans (forget civil rights activists) whose vote they feared to lose. So they stonewalled, until the franchise expired.
This gave the administration the legal argument to order ABS-CBN off the airways, though that argument is under contestation—even by those sycophantic legislators who delivered ABS-CBN to the untender mercies of the executive, and who now perceive the NTC’s action as an encroachment on the legislature’s power to decide on media franchises.
Moreover, Congress’ failure to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise is part of an entire constellation of occasions in which the government has weaponized the law against independent media outlets. That constellation harms not just the elite families or the young upstarts who own these media outlets, but the citizenry, because it deprives them of independent sources of information about how the government performs, or does not. That constellation disempowers the people.
In 1992, the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, the assembly that forged the current directions for the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines, articulated eight Catholic principles that the Church committed herself to promote in Philippine society. The eighth principle was “people empowerment.” The Council’s participants still remember a time of national disempowerment six years before, when rule of law, freedom of the press, and other civil and political rights were subordinated to the will of one man. They saw it as a Christian duty to work so that this should never happen again.
Some church leaders realize that it is happening again. Among them, Bishop Broderick S. Pabillo, Apostolic Administrator of Manila, has forcefully weighed in on the NTC order. He has declared it not just a disservice to the nation in the midst of a pandemic crisis when the Filipino people need all the information they can get, but also the harbinger of a return to authoritarianism.
We in Gomburza, a community of faith, support this broader perspective on the ABS-CBN controversy. We urge all Filipinos to reflect on this issue, and, if they object, vociferously to make known their objections. Consider what we will be losing as independent media outlets are suppressed: not just “Ang Probinsyano,” but the right to information that empowers us to build a society of justice and human dignity.
MEMBERS OF GOMBURZA:
SISTER TERESITA ALO, SFIC
FR. ROBERTO REYES
FR. FLAVIE L. VILLANUEVA, SVD
RUBY G. ALCANTARA
LOT LUMAWIG ALLANIGUE
TERESITA S. CASTILLO
LUCIA LUCAS CHAVEZ
ELEANOR R. DIONISIO
VERONICA ESTER MENDOZA
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