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ABS-CBN postmortem

Congress has done its duty under the Constitution, and by its action, the rule of law has been upheld.

TDT

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This is a postmortem on the ABS-CBN debacle. It may be a tough pill to swallow for the employees bound to lose jobs. While the number of employees affected is in dispute — 11,000 people as ABS-CBN claims, or only 4,000 based on the report of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) that surfaced in February this year — the best thing for those affected is to accept it and move on. After all, if you have been following the hearings closely, you should have known that this was coming.

ABS-CBN sympathizers spent the weekend attempting to incite a riot, which obviously failed. There were calls to do a noise barrage in various places in Metro Manila that went all for naught. The only place that got noisy was the ABS-CBN compound in Quezon City and the Rockwell Center in Makati, owned by the Lopezes. On the Internet, there were Zoom protests arranged by groups, yet these only became small hangouts meant for ranting without significance. People were more confrontational on Twitter as they got to message directly the House members, or their relatives, who voted for the shutdown, but these should be easily forgotten soon enough.

Even Rappler joined the ABS-CBN bandwagon, claiming that this is their fight also, emphasizing that this is about press freedom. The Rappler statement read, “When media operations are closed down on account of twisted facts and an inability to accept criticism, democracy’s death is hastened. Martial law shut down ABS-CBN and other critical media in 1972. Illegal arrests were made, disappearances and deaths characterized the dictatorship. Learning from the lessons of history, journalists and other freedom-loving citizens must speak up because to be silent is to be complicit.”

Firstly, it is unfair to link the non-renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise to what transpired in 1972. This time around, a lengthy process was followed by the House of Representatives in hearing out all claims for and against ABS-CBN, pursuant to the 1987 Constitution. Thirteen hearings were held that lasted until late in the evening. As compared to martial law, ABS-CBN was taken over by government forces as an outright display of power.

The ABS-CBN shutdown in 2020 was caused by the network itself. It did not prioritize its renewal in the previous administration and hoped that they could wing it with their expected president in 2016. We know how ABS-CBN has wronged President Rodrigo Duterte and his vice-presidential candidate, now Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, during the campaign. Despite this, Speaker Cayetano and the House members granted ABS-CBN all the opportunities to defend itself during the long hearings held.

Rappler is mistaken by saying that this is a press freedom issue like what happened to them. This is misleading. Rappler has tax problems and its foreign ownership is obvious as they grant the foreigner holders of Philippine depositary receipts (PDR) the power to vote. ABS-CBN, on the other hand, has several issues, the most glaring one would be its clear bias in favor of their pet politicians.

The most humorous comments online pertain with Congress having nothing to do with regulating media. We invite these netizens to read the 40-page report of the House Technical Working Group (TWG) before they bash and bully the 70 members who voted for the shutdown. The report cited the Supreme Court case, Del Mar vs PAGCOR (GR 138298, 29 November 2000), which stated the duty of Congress in regulating public morals in its grant of franchises, as follows:

“The legislature is regarded as the guardian of society, and therefore is not presumed to disable itself or abandon the discharge of its duty. Thus, courts do not assume that the legislature intended to part away with its power to regulate public morals. The presumption is influenced by constitutional considerations. Constitutions are widely understood to withhold from legislatures any authority to bargain away their police power for the power to protect the public interest is beyond abnegation.”

To cap off this postmortem, a quote from Solicitor General Jose Calida shall be fitting, as he once again hit it right on the nail. In his statement, Calida said, “The denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise cannot be characterized as a restraint on freedom of expression or of the press because the primordial effect of such denial is the upholding of the constitutional provision and laws governing media companies like ABS-CBN.” He ended, “Congress has done its duty under the Constitution, and by its action, the rule of law has been upheld.”

In conclusion, we reiterate what we have stated before in this paper: ABS-CBN’s misdeeds have simply caught up with it.

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