‘It also matters much to me that, when quizzed about any of ABS-CBN’s shortfalls, government agencies such as the DOLE, the BIR and the NTC have stated that none exist, or have been corrected.’
AN afternoon ago I found myself in a dream. I was inside the halls of the Lower House of Congress, together with all my other colleagues, and we were preparing for a major vote.
Up for decision was the franchise application of ABS-CBN, the Lopez-owned network that, for decades, has dominated television and radio broadcasting in this country, but whose franchise had lapsed for the first time in its history and now was unsure whether it would resume broadcasting, or go into hibernation until 2022.
In my dream I walked to my place, neither being acknowledged by my colleagues nor acknowledging them. I was fully focused on some papers I had in my hand, papers on which I had scribbled a few points that summed up the vote I was going to cast on the floor shortly.
Finally, I heard my party list called and I stood up. Taking the microphone I knocked on it three times, each time saying “mike test.” When I was satisfied that it was working and all could hear me, I spoke.
“Mr. Speaker, my fellow members of this august body” I intoned, because you had to acknowledge the Speaker first and then praise everyone collectively no matter how much you doubted that everyone deserved it. “I rise today to cast my vote on this very issue that has so divided our people at such a critical time in the history of our nation. Do we grant the ABS-CBN network a new franchise so that it can continue informing, entertaining, promoting and tormenting certain parts of our population, as it has always been doing, sometimes simultaneously, since its birth?
No other business in its once vast empire has been too valuable through the years to the Lopez family as its media empire whose crown jewel is ABS-CBN. Originally one of the more important players in the politically sensitive sugar industry in the Philippines, the Lopez family soon branched out – into utilities and into broadcast and print media and in the process achieved a level of influence in Philippine politics almost unmatched by any other family business. And it was an influence the family did not hesitate to use to further its interests.
I was not yet born then, but I am told that one example of this was the way Elpidio Quirino, then President of the Philippines, was excoriated about his graft-prone ways as exemplified by a “golden orinola,” or bedpan, in the run-up to the 1953 elections which pitted re-electionist Quirino against the Nacionalista challenger, then Defense secretary Ramon Magsaysay. The “golden orinola” story damaged Quirino’s image and helped in the election of Magsaysay. Years later, the writer of the story admitted it was made up, on orders of his “higher ups.”
If the writer was referring to his newspaper owners, then they were the Lopezes because he was writing for their Manila Chronicle. It should also be remembered that while Quirino ran in 1949 with Fernando Lopez as his vice president, for the 1953 elections Quirino had replaced Lopez with Jose Yulo. So there was no love lost there.
Flexing their political muscles using their media assets continued through the years, and is one of the reasons why they were confiscated by the Marcos regime in 1972. When they were returned to the family, to the heirs of Eugenio Lopez Sr., after the EDSA Revolution, the family rediscovered its level of influence. Thanks to its reach, Loren Legarda and Noli de Castro moved from commenting on TV to makers of national policy; Kris Aquino became a big star; Companero y Companera launched the senatorial bid of the elder Cayetano; and soon many were vying to be on the network’s programs whether by having their life stories told on MMK or doing cameos on its many soaps.
Beyond informing, entertaining and promoting, the network also was a key to tormenting politicians. It was ABS-CBN that effectively triggered the downfall of Joseph Estrada in 2001; it was the network that seriously crippled the campaign of Manny Villar in 2010; and then again it was the network that ended the presidential ambitions of Vice President Jejomar Binay in 2016.
However, in 2016, it miscalculated when the eventual winner did not turn out to be one friendly to the media empire. And our President is not blind to the influence of ABS-CBN and how it holds sway over the opinion of millions of Filipinos on many issues, issues that they mostly only hear about from the network.
Which is why we are here today.
If all of these amounts to enough reason to deny the network a renewal of its franchise it would be easy to cast an affirmative vote on the motion. But they aren’t. The fact that a media empire torments us in public office must be a given to each and every one of us because we operate, I last checked, in what we call “democratic space.” And in that democratic space, other players exist: not only does chief rival GMA-7 exist, so does TV-5, and government owned and controlled networks PTV4 and IBC 13. The latter two, aside from our own Philippine News Agency, show that government is not powerless but in fact has assets of its own that it can – and should – deploy to counter whatever misinformation ABS-CBN is spewing. Furthermore, if all that ABS-CBN is spewing is misinformation, with hardly a grain of truth, would its rivals not be quick to reveal this serious violation of its duty to the public?
It also matters much to me that, when quizzed about any of ABS-CBN’s shortfalls, government agencies such as the DOLE, the BIR and the NTC have stated that none exist, or have been corrected.
Let me repeat that: when quizzed about any of ABS-CBN’s shortfalls, government agencies such as the DOLE, the BIR and the NTC have stated that none exist, or have been corrected.
So what will be our basis to deny the renewal of the franchise? Because members of our political class have been hurt by their reporting? Because they pose a threat to our existence as politicians? Because this business family mixes politics with business, in a country where that has been the reality since Adam and Eve and JPE walked this earth?
All these just add up to the simple fact that we in public office need to do much better. We need to communicate with our constituents better, need to understand their plight better, need to get them to understand our plans for them better and, heck, we need to use government assets in media and communications better because that’s what they exist for.
Instead of silencing one network, we must just do better. That’s what the people deserve.
That is why, Mr. Speaker, this humble representation casts a vote to deny the motion to deny the renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN.
I vote “NO.”
Then I woke up in time for “Saksi.”