When personal becomes public policy

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    ONE of my favorite politicians always said that government is the biggest agent of change, capable of shaping public life with its far-reaching power and influence. Government, especially the Executive branch, in the hands of a good leader, can create a lasting impact on the lives of millions with just a stroke of a pen. Whether it is signing a good bill into law, vetoing a bad one, or mandating a particular policy via executive order, the power of the Executive branch should never be underestimated. The converse is also true: the power of the sword, a metaphor for the influence yielded by the Executive, can unfortunately inflict damage to the very same people it has sworn to protect and care for.

    It is with this immense power in mind that public policy should always be approached: with immense care, meticulous study, and with a view to whatever consequences it can have to either shape or disadvantage common good. The decision not to renew the franchise of entertainment and broadcast giant ABS-CBN is a perfect example of how public policy can go wrong when driven purely by personal motives. The decision, it seems, is rooted in conflict between then-Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and the network back in late 2015, when the network allegedly refused to air a few versions of Mr. Duterte’s campaign ads. Mr. Duterte also claims that the money used to buy the airtime was never returned to him, an allegation that remains unclear to this day. I do recall that Mr. Duterte’s campaign was only able to run TV spots sometime in February, and the first few materials that aired didn’t seem to be exactly what his campaign envisioned.

    What was running through the grapevine then was that the material submitted by the Duterte campaign did not pass content standards; someone mentioned that the content was too violent for free TV. Every campaign submitting ads for placement complained about the stringent standards one’s material had to meet in order for the same to be aired, but we all complied with the requirements anyway, knowing that a single day of non-airing would have an impact on a candidate’s chances in the May 2016 elections. While that impact is unquantifiable, no campaign would willingly risk a no-airing just to engage in a pissing contest with network screening boards.

    Mr. Duterte gave ABS-CBN early notice of his intentions to block the renewal of their franchise, which means that it has been a hellish three years for the network and its thousands of employees. Meanwhile, GMA was able to renew its franchise without a hitch.

    While I have had issues with some of ABS’ reporting during my stint in government, it is the height of unfairness to punish the thousands of employees and their families for the perceived slight of a few in management. Given this administration’s penchant for attacking their critics, the handy non-renewal of the ABS franchise sends a very chilling message to others who would dare cross swords with it: this can happen to you. So much for freedom of the press.

    While the general sentiment seems to be on the side of ABS-CBN, there are other forces silently moving to consolidate support against the renewal of the franchise. I’m told that a certain religious group, known for its intense interest in all things political, has been flexing its muscle by visiting members of Congress to get their commitment to block the renewal.

    Apparently, the group has not forgotten that the network aired in its news programs the infighting within their walls, shattering the illusion of a united leadership at its helm. Coffee shop talk is also rife with persistent murmurs of another group interested in taking over the franchise to add to its fast-growing portfolio of business interests. As we can see, this is intensely personal—for those who would want to block the renewal to benefit their own ends. Sadly, when the personal takes precedence over public interest, it is ultimately the common man who is at the losing end.

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