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Gov’t should leave ABS-CBN alone

"What happens after March 30 and ABS-CBN has no extended franchise?"

 

No matter how stridently Malacañang denies that President Rodrigo Duterte had a hand in the filing by Solicitor General Jose Calida of a quo warranto petition urging the Supreme Court to forfeit ABS-CBN's franchise for alleged "abusive practices," his repeated diatribes against the media conglomerate clearly indicate that Calida's surprise move had his fingerprints all over it.

President Duterte accuses ABS-CBN of "swindling" him because it did not run his political advertisements during the 2016 election campaign although he had already paid for it, instead airing his bete noire Antonio Trillanes' ads. If that is true, then the proper recourse would have been to go to court and ask them to return the money, plus legal fees and other damages, rather than to shut it down lock, stock and barrel. In short, it has all the makings of a political vendetta against a media outfit that is no match against all the awesome powers vested in him by the Constitution.

Calida's move asking the High Tribunal to cancel the media outfit's franchise ahead of its expiration on March 30 appears to be another example of weaponizing the law to silence critics of the administration. The quo warranto petition is the same tactic used to strip Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno of her post, ahead of what would have been lengthy impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives and possibly in the Senate where she could have ably defended herself.

We agree with the view that Calida has usurped the power of Congress on the matter of granting legislative franchises.

That same Congress, however, also appears in no hurry to deliberate on 11 pending bills seeking to extend the ABS-CBN franchise.

From where I sit, this looks like a tag-team effort by the legislative and executive branches of government to leave the beleaguered media outfit no option but to accept the non-extension of their franchise to operate. Or perhaps, as Duterte himself suggested, to just sell it to whoever has the moolah to cough up in short order.

What happens after March 30 and ABS-CBN has no extended franchise? One view says that it can still operate its radio-TV facilities if Congress fails to act on the pending franchise bills. Another says that it can shutter its radio and TV facilities for the meantime and concentrate on other aspects of its media operations, such as digital film production. Still another is that it can establish a joint venture with another TV channel and use it as a platform for airing news, public affairs, and entertainment programs it can still produce, perhaps under another corporate entity.

Whatever happens, one thing is clear: The administration's threats to close down ABS-CBN are a clear infringement on press freedom against which media, rights groups and all those seriously concerned over the dangerous downward drift toward dictatorship should all be vigilant.

Vetting the VFA

Even Jose Ma. Sison, the founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines, seems overjoyed that Duterte has sent notice to the US that he is terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement.

The Bayan coalition as well as Bayan Muna Party-list have also hailed Duterte's move as a welcome development as this signals a shift from overdependence on Washington's imperial outreach to a more independent foreign policy.

But would this not mean simply jumping from one world power to another for our military and economic requirements?

It would have made more sense for the government to propose a thorough review of the VFA with the end in view of maximizing the benefits we get from it and junking its onerous provisions.

As pointed out recently by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. when he appeared recently before the Senate in a lengthy briefing, the Philippines derives a number of benefits from the VFA. These include, apart from joint military exercises where Filipino soldiers can learn from their US counterparts, offers of humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of natural disasters; assistance in AFP modernization efforts; technical support to the AFP in fighting insurgency and terrorism; and schooling/training of military and police personnel in the US.

Can we afford to lose all of these? Duterte thinks so, and forthwith ordered his subalterns to send a formal notice to the US government to terminate the VFA.

We recall that Duterte first sounded out his plan to terminate the treaty in the aftermath of the US government's cancellation of the visa of Senator Ronald de la Rosa, the chief implementor of Duterte's blood-soaked war on drugs. But we did not know then that the moment of pique over a unilateral move on the part of the US government would lead to a big rift in Philippine-American relations that had so far gone smoothly in the post-war era except for a few irritants regarding extraterritoriality rights given to US servicemen who commit crimes while in the country.

The US Defense secretary has described Duterte's move as a "step in the wrong direction." That is understandable given China's military build up in the South China Sea. But whether this would adversely affect over-all bilateral ties is still everyone's guess. We'll have to wait and see.

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Topics: Ernesto Hilario , ABS-CBN , President Rodrigo Duterte , Solicitor General Jose Calida , quo warranto petition , Supreme Court , Visiting Forces Agreement , VFA
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