Ultimately, it's not about any single media organization, or how big or small such an organization is.
The actions this week of the chief lawyer of the Duterte administration sends an unequivocal message that the press should do the bidding of whoever is in power—or it must face dire consequences.
Solicitor General Jose Calida on Monday went to the Supreme Court to file a quo warranto petition against broadcast giant ABS-CBN, alleging that it had violated the terms of its franchise.
Calida lodged the petition as a very urgent omnibus motion against the network and its subsidiary, just 49 days before the expiration of its 25-year franchise.
He said that ABS-CBN's subsidiary tried to transfer its franchise without the necessary congressional approval, and failed to publicly offer its outstanding franchise stock to any securities exchange in the country within five years from the start of its franchise.
The solicitor general denied that his acts were politically motivated, despite the fact that his boss—President Rodrigo Duterte—has repeatedly attacked the network for not airing his political advertisements in 2016. ABS-CBN is also perceived to be critical of the administration.
Calida's filing has invited plenty of criticism; a group of 37 individuals and six institutions, which includes the University of the Philippines Diliman College of Mass Communication—Department of Journalism, has denounced the move, which it says is “a parasite that feeds on the country's weak justice system.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has also issued a statement, saying, among others: “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.”
It is unfortunate that amid the many crises that our country is facing—diseases, disasters, corruption, inequality, just to name a few—the government has chosen to engage in this display of raw power.
Leaders that do not recognize the right of others to criticize them, and who employ various means under the guise of valid acts to silence these critics, only show themselves weak rather than strong.
This administration has often insisted that press freedom is alive and well in the Philippines. This latest stunt gives lie to that claim.