IF you watched the Senate committee hearing the other day on ABS-CBN Corp.’s franchise application that was called by Sen. Mary Grace Poe, you’ll be as convinced as I was that it was a production mounted by the media giant; so expertly done that if it had been a movie, it would have been an award-winner.
It was, however, one of the clearest demonstrations I’ve ever seen of an oligarch at work and why oligarchs are oligarchs: they can expertly use the institutions and leaders of the State, and cloak their agenda of perpetuating their rule as economic elites.
The quality the hearing shares with ABS-CBN’s telenovelas is that it has no existence in the real world. Hold marathon hearings as much as Poe can call, the Senate has no business tackling ABS-CBN’s franchise application at this time.
Going by the Constitution, it is the House of Representatives that first has to pass a bill to give a company the franchise to use the state-owned radio spectrum frequencies and only after the Senate deliberated on it — whether to pass it for the President’s signature, reject it or return to the House for any changes it wants done.
The Lopez oligarchs who own ABS-CBN, Poe and the Yellow senators may gloat over the propaganda success of their production, but it could be the kiss of death for the network’s application for a franchise. The House will certainly not let pass the Senate’s grandstanding on this issue and extract vengeance by just sitting on the application.
ABS-CBN certainly demonstrated its expertise in telenovelas and movie in this production disguised as a Senate hearing.
In this production, Poe was the lead actress, with nearly all of the remaining Yellow senators in supporting roles, each with his or her specific role in the program. For example, Sen. Emmanuel Joel Villanueva focused on the plight of “11,000” ABS-CBN workers if it is closed down; Sen. Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros on the alleged negative impact on press freedom; and Sen. Ralph Recto on the impact on the banking system if ABS-CBN is unable to pay its debts if it collapses.
I can’t believe though that we have a senator like Juan Miguel Zubiri, whose main argument (akin to Sen. Emmanuel Pacquiao’s) in support of ABS-CBN is that he always watches the ANC news channel and would miss it if the firm closes down. I was waiting for a senator to claim that the South Korean telenovelas justify ABS-CBN’s continued existence.
Sen. Manuel “Lito” Lapid, whose telenovela “Ang Probinsyano” is an ABS-CBN production, was at the hearing — one of his rare appearances when he said something. Lapid, obviously reading from a script, pointed to the fact that ABS-CBN never had any difficulty in getting a franchise before, except for the current one — leading to the point that their predicament is entirely due to President Rodrigo Duterte’s odium against the firm.
No senator ventured to make the really obvious explanation for their difficulty now: it was a breeze for the oligarchic Lopezes to get their past two franchises, first during Corazon Aquino’s regime and the second under another Yellow President Fidel Ramos. Unfortunately for them, President Duterte is no dummy of oligarchs.
The emotional arguments made by ABS-CBN at the hearing mostly fall into the “too-big-to-fail” type of reasoning by elites: that ABS-CBN’s closure would mean “thousands of thousands” of people put out of work, that its huge news and entertainment shows would vanish forever, that it could make things very difficult for its creditor banks — what with the latter’s loans to it of over P30 billion.
But all these are irrelevant and simply make a nation hostage to oligarchs. Time and time again, reformist governments all over the world closed down huge institutions that violated their laws, and bit the bullet of its short-term negative repercussions to build a more efficient economy. For instance, the closure of the United States’ biggest investment banks during the 2007 to 2008 Great Recession made the US financial system stronger, that just two years later, it started its 10-year unprecedented expansion.
ABS-CBN must be closed down not just because it wantonly violated the terms of its three franchises since 1986.
More importantly, it has been a tool of an oligarch and the Yellow elites, which debased a basic pillar of our democracy, press freedom. ABS-CBN became a weapon of the Lopezes in maintaining and expanding their conglomerate, with all past presidents afraid of its media fire-power. Even with the end of the Yellow era in 2016, it continues to be a tool of the Yellow Cult.
The demise of this abhorrent propaganda tool of the Yellow oligarchs ABS-CBN will be the start of the end of oligarchic rule in the country.
That, of course, is not a legal argument, but a political one. But then the granting of franchises to operate public utilities and media is a political act and is the reason why the Constitution gave such power to Congress.
If the representatives elected by the people — Congress — think that giving a private company the authority to use the radio frequencies the nation owns will not benefit the country but only a few, then they have all the right to refuse to issue the franchise.
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Asked at the Senate hearing if my report last Monday that ABS-CBN’s head honcho and major stockholder Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez 3rd is a US citizen, its president, Carlo Katigbak, said: “That’s not true, your honor. Mr. Lopez’s parents are Filipinos and he is a Filipino.” The answer — which made the emotional point of referring to his parents — was obviously from a script.
Either Katigbak is lying or was not told the truth by the Lopezes.
I have confirmed from other sources that Lopez, indeed, has been an American citizen starting in the 1960s and acquired Filipino citizenship only in 2004. He enters foreign airports using his US passport, but returns to the country using his Filipino passport.
Katigbak promised to give the Senate committee the “relevant documents” proving Lopez’s citizenship. I hope he does so to settle this point of fact. An examination of Lopez’s current and past Philippine passports will reveal that while they contain stamps of entry into the Philippines, they do not have such stamps of entry into the corresponding ports in the US and elsewhere.
What’s the relevance of all these? If he became a Filipino citizen only in 2004, there is no doubt that ABS-CBN had been clearly violating the constitutional ban on foreign money and management for 18 years from 1986 — when Lopez first became a manager and had equity there up to 2004, when he acquired dual citizenship.
In Lopez’s defense, Sen. Franklin Drilon made the absurd claim that the dual citizenship law is retroactive to a person’s birth. What?
The government must settle the question whether a dual citizen can own or participate in the management of a media company, in which the Constitution requires 100 percent ownership. This issue also involves Rappler, as its head Maria Ressa only became a Filipino citizen in 2004, as Lopez 3rd did.
Ressa grew up in the US, went to US schools and spent most of her working life in the US. Yet she has the right to invest and manage a firm in which the Constitution bans any foreign participation?
If things go bad in this country, or if they are sued by persons they malign through their media outfits, the Lopezes and Gabby Lopez can just seek the protection of the US Embassy, which probably would whisk them away to America. Is that fair?
When will we ever take our Constitution seriously?