The people vote Yes
In retrospect, was the final outcome ever in doubt? President Duterte’s record so far shows that everything he wants, he gets: the imprisonment of Sen. Leila de Lima, the ouster of former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the Marcos burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the Philippines’ withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, the anti-terrorism law.
And now, of course, the shuttering of the country’s biggest media network. Did anyone seriously think the administration’s allies in the House would, in sufficient numbers, defy the wishes of the President? He had declared many times, as late as December last year, that he would “see to it” that the franchise of ABS-CBN would not be renewed. For all the noise and drama generated by the 12 contentious House hearings on the issue, the animus of Mr. Duterte toward the network was the alpha and omega, if you will, of ABS-CBN’s woes, crystallized in that now-inerasable declaration: “Your franchise will end next year. If you are expecting that it will be renewed, I’m sorry. You’re out. I will see to it that you’re out.”
And so ABS-CBN is out. “A foregone conclusion” was how Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman described the result. Despite the network surviving “grueling legislative inquisition,” ABS-CBN “was slain at the end of the show with premeditation and abuse of superiority in numbers as aggravating circumstances,” said Lagman. Indeed, as viewers across the country who tuned in to the hearings found, there seemed an element of the absurd in the interrogations. Entire sessions were devoted to legislators raking up their grievances, some dating years back, against the network. They tried to school TV executives on journalism and TV entertainment, with one even suggesting that ABS-CBN get out of the news business entirely.
All the issues raised against the network, meanwhile, were debunked by a parade of witnesses, many of them from government agencies, from the Bureau of Internal Revenue to the Department of Labor and Employment to the Securities and Exchange Commission, even the Philippine Economic Zone Authority. And yet the committee report rehashed these same accusations, as if the hearings never took place. “Contrary to ABS-CBN’s submission, it is not the view of the SEC that matters here,” insisted Sagip Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, who hogged much of the hearings with his tortuous probing of the network’s alleged failings. “It is not the view of the SEC that matters here. It is not the opinion of the DOJ… not even the Bureau of Immigration or other agencies.” It is only “the will of Congress” that should prevail and “be accorded respect.”
In other words, it was all, in the end, a show. The regulatory agencies may consider themselves properly and officially ignored, because, notwithstanding their testimonies clearing ABS-CBN, the legislators had made up their minds. There was a higher interest to heed, as Bulacan Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado, one of the 70 who voted against ABS-CBN, unabashedly verbalized afterwards: If “ABS-CBN will sincerely apologize to the President,” he said, then things could have turned out differently. “Madaling magpatawad si Pangulo kung nararamdaman niyang sinsero (the President easily forgives if he feels the sincerity).” At the end of the day, it was back to the affronted sentiments of Mr. Duterte, who couldn’t hide his satisfaction at the results for long, exulting that he had “dismantled the oligarchy.”
And yet, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque would declare that killing ABS-CBN was “the decision of the people,” ostensibly because it was conducted under the Constitution the public had ratified. A day after the House committee vote came confirmation that the people were indeed heavily invested in the proceedings — but only in their forceful rejection of the campaign against the network. A Social Weather Stations survey conducted nationwide on July 3-6 showed that 75 percent of voting-age Filipinos (or 3 of 4) supported the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, and 56 percent said non-renewal constituted a “major blow to press freedom.”
Solicitor General Jose Calida, who had led the charge against ABS-CBN with a quo warranto case at the Supreme Court and threats against any inclination by the National Telecommunications Communication to look more kindly at the network’s case, hailed the House decision. “Justice has been served,” he proclaimed. Which brings to mind Montesquieu’s words: “There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.”
There was something else Mr. Duterte said when he slammed ABS-CBN in December 2019 and, not for the first time, threatened to end its existence: “I will make sure that you will remember this episode of our times forever.”
Those emphatic survey numbers, like handwriting on the wall, suggest the Filipino people will certainly remember.
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