WITHIN a brief span of four weeks in the preceding month, our quarantined existence – while anxiously waiting for the tumultuous consequences of a “certain current event” – curiously witnessed the eruption of another event that has already blown up in our face and has already spewed much lethal debris into so many different social directions.
As if we cannot care any less for the extreme hardship brought about by the restraints of a lockdown, by the slow degradation of our economic securities, and by the sad realization that we as a country are still too poor to improve our health-systems any faster than it should, we on the other hand are uncannily still more alarmed by these two events that seem to indicate an ultimate stifling of our cherished civil liberties.
Perhaps a present lack of freedom all the more, heightens the importance of tales about losing more of it.
This of course refers to the precarious conditions that may lead to the permanent closure of media giant ABS-CBN, and the impending passage of a controversial anti-terror bill.
Both events have been seen in the light of this incumbent administration’s penchant for silencing its enemies in the last three years.
Are our rights to free speech, to free assembly and to free thought, in grave danger?
Let us briefly reflect upon each event in turn.
The legal problems confronting ABS-CBN have been out in the open for quite some time, even months before the virus struck.
The company is widely perceived as an untouchable and aggressive Goliath in the relatively small industry of telecommunications, where only about three major networks are constantly “killing each other” for coveted places in the ratings-and-sponsorships-game.
They are seen to be the most virulent, never taking “no” for an answer, never accepting “losing” as an option. They are also seen to be the most politically powerful, deliberately building its own base through the years, in order for them to confront and challenge other power-bases on their own terms.
So why would such a financially and socially successful enterprise just simply trip over a trivial franchise renewal? Can ambition be so blinding that non-compliance has already become non-essential?
After ABS-CBN was forced off-the-air, a frenzy of opinions and speculations burst wide open into the infinite recesses of virtual space.
In a country where the latest show-business gossip gets more views than an economic depression, Filipinos waiting for more than three hours in long queues to receive their “social amelioration subsidies” were doubly excited to see their favorite artists defend their employer; or to watch their favorite celebrity bashers malign the beleaguered mogul.
Pandemic angst quickly subsided for the meantime, while the nation in delirious amusement, saw itself polarized over the fateful ending of this unfolding real-life melodrama.
On the defensive side, many have argued that ABS-CBN is simply being bullied by unseen forces loyal to the present government, a bastion of press freedom being silenced, the equalizer for truth and justice being snuffed out forever.
On the opposing legal side, however, the charges against it should not be interpreted in the context of a martyrdom, but merely a fair calling on the company to account for its many past misdeeds which includes but not limited to abuse of franchise privileges, and subsequent self-enrichment at the public’s expense due to limited tax obligations.
Due to lack of competence, I will not venture to comment on legal matters, but we can critically reflect together on the alleged usurpation of press freedom.
At the core of this accusation, is a much deeper question: Can ABS-CBN or any other company like it, known for its relentless pursuit of power, truly claim to be the voice of the powerless?
It is not a secret here in the Philippines, that this organization has literally shaped itself up to acquire the priceless clout to shape public opinion.
This former colony still retains many of its most formidable oligarchies, political directions of which must be held in control and in consonance with their economic stakes; ABS-CBN is the business of one such oligarchy.
Its controlling family has had its share in the political limelight as well as in the underground opposition. It did not flinch in striking swords with other families and politicians, and it always made sure to create and maintain a presence that “they won’t be needing others, rather others would be needing them.”
They are notorious for trying to achieve dominance in almost every field it engaged in: mass entertainment, news reporting, charitable work, advocacies and most importantly, opinion-shaping.
The family is in fact engaged in other businesses related to property, public utilities and health care. Much has been said about its own exploits against dictators, corrupt public officials and greedy capitalists, even particularly about how one of its own nearly became an “icon of democracy.”
And that is why they are a little too dangerous. It is undeniable that it now has its own historical pedestal; but it is also true that they fiercely fought to place themselves up on that same pedestal. The very struggle which they claimed to have endured against the existing social hegemonies – and which they saw and promoted as their own heroism – is actually their own struggle for them to form their own hegemony.
In time and to our great misfortune, opinion-shapers create their own realities, and compel us to believe anything aligned to their interests. Our admiration and praises reinforce their pride; our doubts, complaints and admonitions are met with their arrogance.
We need not wonder now why a normal legal requirement was something they felt they can negotiate over and above the law.
In the present tribulation of ABS-CBN, whose freedom are we actually referring to – ours or theirs?
Let us remember that in all such cases, the whole social context must be analyzed from the lens of a hunger for power. How now does one become an authentic voice for the marginalized?
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.