ABS-CBN closure in context CNN_Ph

ABS-CBN closure in context Featured

First of two parts

CONGRESS has spoken. The ABS-CBN Corp. franchise is no more. The Deegong got his pound of flesh with implacable finality. As intimated by a senator-cum-personal aide, “Kung hindi ninyo sinaktan and damdamin ng Pangulo, hindi sana kayo ipapasara (If you had not hurt President Rodrigo Duterte’s feelings, you would not have been closed).” So, there! From out of the mouths of babes…I’m afraid the naive senator never did quite grasp the implications of his revelations, thus piercing the President’s alibi. But, what the hell, we already knew what would happen to ABS-CBN. It was foreordained and it has come to pass. All that is left is to pick up the pieces and examine the ramifications of what transpired.

From the Deegong’s side

Don’t blame the congressmen; or the National Telecommunications Commission or the bureaucracy. It is in the nature of the spineless to just execute orders although allowed a semblance of independence and a modicum of integrity. Don’t blame the President. While his minions were dissecting the ABS-CBN carcass in those hearings, he declared “…he was neutral on its closure;” and then contradicting himself post-facto, “…Without declaring martial law, I dismantled the oligarchy that controlled the economy and the Filipino people.”

No, sir. You did not dismantle the oligarchy. You simply incapacitated one billionaire family, albeit an oligarch, from using their most lethal apparatus in their arsenal. For ABS-CBN, information was its fundamental currency and the use, misuse and abuse thereof is power over mind. This is what sets the Lopezes apart from the other oligarchs. This is their crown jewel, so to speak. They have been influencing traditional politicians to do their bidding; perverting information, news and chismis to serve their family politico-economic interests.

But the oligarchy is a multi-headed hydra. You cut off one head, two more will grow. For all we know, the remnants of the ABS-CBN propaganda empire may resurrect once this is taken over or bought by another set of oligarchs — perhaps one well-connected — reportedly some China-linked associates. But, then again, these are just speculations. Or are they? Among the oligarchy, the Lopez propaganda machinery paradoxically was, perhaps, the easiest to dismantle as their legitimacy and clout hung provisionally on government acquiescence for a specific franchise period. It is simply their luck that it was to be renewed on Duterte’s watch. And it was easy to demonize the Lopezes as it was easy for them to do the same with former president Ferdinand Marcos, the president’s idol. So, blame the Lopezes!

From the ABS-CBN side

And what do we hear from their side? ABS-CBN, with this formidable propaganda machinery at its disposal, framed the debacle quite grandiosely as the curtailment of press freedom and death of democracy. That the closure was exquisitely timed with the pandemic quarantine, resulting in a dearth of news and entertainment, was unacceptable to its clientele serving Filipinos in the far corners of the globe. Depriving them of Vice Ganda’s antics, exceeding the boundaries of good taste, and the luridly melodramatic “Ang Probinsyano” was simply unethical — or laughable or whatever. And the Lopezes are sure the assets of ABS-CBN will be sold to a nebulous group of Duterte’s new set of cronies effectively for a song; reportedly the reason why Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez 3rd bailed out and sold his controlling shares months ago. So, kawawa naman, the 11,000 workers — the abandonados. Of course, a franchise will be awarded to the new owners.

What is really at stake?

Amid the cacophony, valid arguments emerged from both sides that would have been useful prior to the franchise’s demise and would have helped to elevate the conversation and debate to a higher level on the role of the oligarchy in governance. The Lopez family has been in existence for generations going back to the Lopez brothers who started it all.

Both Eugenio “Eñing” and Fernando “Nanding” of Iloilo parlayed their wealth and influence, with Nanding winning as senator and later vice president of both presidents Elpidio Quirino and Marcos.

“The older brother Eñing, was the businessman in the family who founded the business empire. This deadly combination of politics and business, symbolized by the siblings, defined and nurtured this symbiotic relationship, becoming the template for the Philippine oligarchy.” (“The end of ABS-CBN?” The Manila Times, June 27, 2019)
And the family used ABS-CBN and its affiliates to gain advantage in business and politics, accumulating politicians in their pockets that included members of both houses of Congress, but in the process established itself among the country’s well-run companies.

And this is what the oligarchy is all about, and the Lopezes is the microcosm of the Philippine version.

Tomes have been written about how the Lopez oligarchy in effect perverted the political and economic growth of the country. How they supported and practically installed Philippine presidents as “kingmakers” until Vice President Nanding Lopez had a falling out with Marcos, resulting in the stripping of the Lopez family of its political and economic assets and exile during martial law.

But this column will not reprise the pros and cons of the rise of this oligarchy as our political literature is replete with volumes on this subject, nor will we review the 40-page report of the congressional committee on franchises.

From the citizens’ side

This column will discuss what is being mulled over in the aftermath. Lately, attempts to introduce a legal complication in the form of a constitutional amendment are being taken seriously; no doubt encouraged by the Lopezes, the anti-Duterte opposition under the aegis of the Liberal party stalwarts with the tacit support of some members of both houses of Congress.

What is obnoxious is the inane and unconscionable plan to use government funds to upend the closure through the people’s initiative, the third mode of constitutional amendment provided for by the 1987 Constitution. This calls for a petition of at least 12 percent of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least 3 percent of the registered voters therein. If this is successful and the Commission on Elections certifies to the sufficiency of the petition, then a plebiscite is held nationwide for its ratification. This should cost the taxpayers P3 billion to P6 billion — and amid the raging pandemic, to boot. All for the benefit of one family. This is insane!

The Centrist political forces, mindful of the need to rectify the systemic rot in Philippine governance have always maintained that for the country to progress, economic and political reforms have to be instituted. Blocking the path are the root causes handed down from generations: traditional politics buttressed by the twin evils — the symbiosis between the oligarchy and political dynasties. They have to be destroyed. One option is through constitutional revisions. The other is outright revolutionary upheaval. On the former, enabling laws are needed to pave the way for this critical constitutional pathway. It is unfortunate that those who make the laws are controlled by the oligarchy or members of a political dynasty. This is where the Deegong needs to exercise his political will.

Sir, you started dismantling the oligarchy. Start dismantling the political dynasties. Finish the job! Or we revert to the second option.

Part 2: The Philippine oligarchy

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