"All these statements, from all these groups"
The filing of the quo warranto case by the Office of the Solicitor General against ABS-CBN, the country’s largest media network, has sparked an outburst of indignation from virtually all sectors of Philippine society. It has hit a sensitive nerve among Filipinos that hasn’t been seen since the pre-People Power Revolution years.
Seeing through the allegations and timing of the quo warranto case filed less than two months before the expiration of the network’s franchise, the perception is that this is a cunning move to close down ABS-CBN. Civil Society groups, practitioners from the media and advertising industry, press corps, journalist groups, popular celebrities in the entertainment industry, private groups, academe, individuals and even government officials crossed party lines to express strong support for the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise.
The Free the Artist Movement (FAM) in its statement said, “These moves against media companies should make the public truly wary and afraid. There is a hidden agenda to all these.”
Democracy Watch Philippines in published statements on the Quo Warranto case said, “(the) move is not only a gross attempt to set aside due process but is yet another instance of the Duterte administration selectively wielding its authority to harass and stifle criticism and opposition.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines for its part said, “We must not allow the vindictiveness of one man, no matter how powerful, to run roughshod over the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of the press and of expression, and the people’s right to know.”
Human Rights Watch pointed out that, “This quo warranto petition is no longer just about the ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal: this is an attack on the Filipino people’s right to know.”
The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) is calling on all its media colleagues to close ranks to denounce the moves by the government and stated: “These moves politically harass and threaten a pillar of the media industry that employs thousands of Filipinos and has played a crucial part in helping fight official corruption and abuse for decades.”
Consumer watchdog CitizenWatch Philippines in its latest statement warned big enterprises seeing the water distribution controversy thrown against Manila Water, Maynilad, and now the Quo Warranto case filed against ABS CBN as a disturbing trend.
“If this is allowed to prosper, no enterprise will be safe and will cause a crisis of confidence in our regulatory environment that will be perceived to be reckless and unstable. Business cannot thrive in an atmosphere of intimidation and unstable policies. It’s the culture of productivity and innovation of private enterprises, not the government, that drives the growth of our economy and creates the much-needed jobs for our people,” the statement said.
The Kapisanan ng Mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, the association of Philippine broadcasters in its statement said, “will continue to support and help work for the renewal of the franchises of ABS-CBN and other KBP member networks, knowing fully well that it is for the best interest of the public."
The Malacañang Press Corps in its statement vowed to, “remain vigilant against attempts to weaponize legal remedies and processes to suppress free expression” and to stand for the protection of press freedom and right to information, duly enshrined in the constitution and “deplores any attempt to curtail these freedoms, in any way and form.”
The Defense Press Corps of the Philippines’ statement stressed that a free press is the lifeblood of democracy saying, “We cannot emphasize this enough as seeking to destroy ABS-CBN, an institution in the Philippine media industry, sends a clear warning to the country's fourth estate to carry our message or face annihilation.”
The Justice and Court Reporters Association railed against Sol. Gen Calida and said, “We take it as an affront to our constitutional right to report. We believe that such veiled threats to reporters, especially when coming from a government official, have no space in a democracy.”
The UP College of Mass Communications aired its call, “To maintain and protect our democracy, we need a free press to serve as a faithful chronicler of contemporary events; a platform for the diversity of voices to be heard; and more importantly, the public's watchdog of inept, abusive and corrupt governance.”
The flood of public statements echoing these sentiments are likely to further snowball because of the wide-reaching political dynamics and the damaging, gut level economic repercussions to millions of lives that will be disrupted. Malacañang’s doublespeak denying any involvement in the quo warranto petition is an underestimation of the intellectual and communication capacity of the millions of stakeholders that will be affected by ABS-CBN’s closure.
Perhaps to manage the political backlash, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano announced last Friday that ABS-CBN can operate until March 2022 and that there is no urgency to act on several bills seeking to renew its franchise. This may not be enough to stop the flood of indignation from further snowballing because of the wide-reaching political dynamics and the damaging gut level economic repercussions to millions of lives that will be disrupted.
Malacañang’s double speak denying any involvement in the quo warranto petition is simply unbelievable because the President has threatened ABS CBN so many times. This may buy some time for administration allies to consolidate and mobilize their congressional numbers for the next move. The operators behind this have underestimated the rally effect to a capable and influential media industry and millions of stakeholders that will be affected by ABS-CBN’s closure.
I’ve seen this kind of awakening before when we were under the authoritarian rule of Martial Law. At stake is our freedom of the press and expression. At stake are the livelihood of millions.