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Press freedom is no issue

"Here’s what I think about the ABS-CBN controversy."

 

 

Last Tuesday, Feb. 1, the Manila Standard celebrated its 33rd anniversary. It has its own story to tell.

Two weeks before its first day in 1987, the late veteran journalist Rod Reyes got a call from Manda Elizalde from Miami, Florida. The latter said he was coming home after spending years in exile during the martial law years.

Elizalde wanted Reyes to publish a daily newspaper upon his return. Elizalde went on self-exile when he was accused of abusing the Tasadays, an indigenous group in Mindanao. Since the then-president of Costa Rica was his former classmate at Harvard, Elizalde chose to stay there. When his classmate was deposed, Elizalde moved to Miami.

After Elizalde called Rod, the latter, my very good friend, called me to tell me of this development. He said he wanted me to join. I readily said yes—I was jobless at the time.

Rod told me that he had already chosen the editorial staff to be headed by the late Andy del Rosario. I was told I would be chairman of the editorial board.

After several meetings, the first edition of the Manila Standard came off the press, but in a tabloid form. Rod wanted to be different, initially, but he reverted to the usual broadsheet after advertisers complained about the size of the paper.

When Manda returned home, the Manila Standard had its offices at the old Tanduay Rum building on Ayala Avenue.

The Manila Standard has since changed owners several times. This is one newspaper I can believe in. I am comfortable with the people I work with, and at 92, I will stay with it until I write “30.”

***

The controversy over the expiration of the franchise of ABS-CBN is finally coming to a head.

Recall that President Rodrigo Duterte had been ranting against the Lopez for not airing his campaign advertisements during the 2016 elections. Duterte had promised that ABS-CBN’s franchise, now pending in Congress, would not be renewed.

Last Monday, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto petition against the network for alleged violation of its congressional franchise on two basic grounds: First, that the Constitution had been violated when ABS-CBN solicited what is called Philippine Depository Receipts from foreigners when the law was clear that media must be owned 100 percent by Filipinos.

Another complaint of Calida was that a subsidiary of ABS-CBN had pay-per-view channel and was charging fees so people could watch Filipino-made movies, in violation of its franchise.

A quo warranto petition is a special remedy resorted to in order to question “by what right” an individual or juridical person has to continue. Recall that the solicitor general also questioned the continued reign of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, accusing her of failing to submit her Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth. When it was proven that Sereno did not submit these, she was ousted.

But some have asked: Is this not the prerogative of Congress? Whether or not the Supreme Court rules on Calida’s petition is a matter of speculation. If it does, my gulay, ABS-CBN is in a lot of trouble!

Note carefully that the grant of franchises is only a privilege granted by the state since the state has dominion of the airwaves.

The question of press freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of information is beside the point. It is irrelevant. These freedoms are birthrights given to individuals.

Sectors crying that the Duterte administration was suppressing these freedoms are all wrong. Journalists employed by ABS-CBN can still pursue their calling and goals outside of the network.

Admittedly, Duterte also has the right to complain as he did about ABS-CBN. He is entitled to show his dismay because he is also a citizen.

As a lawyer myself, I find this controversy enlightening because there is a lot of misconception.

On the more than 11,000 workers of ABS-CBN being jobless, that is not a problem. Any taipan can always buy the network because it is a profitable one. The alternative is blocktime—Manny Pangilinan has in fact offered his channel for this purpose.

***

Santa Banana, the statement coming from the World Health Organization that the confirmed cases of novel coronavirus are “just the tip of the iceberg” is disturbing!

This means that the virus can still get worse. There are already 1,000 deaths.

The Duterte administration should not be complacent. We cannot afford a “bahala na” attitude and risk the safety of 110 million Filipinos.

The WHO in fact warned small countries that it could be transmitted in other ways other than direct contact with infected patients. For example, nine members of a Hong Kong family became infected after sharing a hotpot.

Sadly, it seems that the Duterte administration is relying only on the DOH press briefing.

***

Many have been asking where they can buy my book, The Road Never Ends, which was launched last Jan. 30. My son and daughter are still talking to book stores. I will give more details as they become available.

Topics: Emil Jurado , Press freedom , ABS-CBN , World Health Organization , WHO
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