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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, March 2, 2020
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with Matè Espina

‘Busina para sa media’

Rock & Refuge

Last Friday, I joined members of the press who attended the Black Friday protests, on its third Friday, to join ABS-CBN employees in their plea for franchise renewal.

Spearheaded by the National Union of Journalists (NUJP), and staged in various key cities nationwide, our protest here had coverage in national news.

It was my first time to attend as I was out of town the past two Fridays and was surprised by the support from commuters, especially public utility vehicles, who honked to lend their sympathy to our cause.

It was disappointing to note though that many of our colleagues in the media industry did not join, with many seeing it as a mere business battle that a giant network is facing, even when the Senate inquiry into the matter showed that this has gone beyond alleged unfair practices committed by ABS-CBN, but a personal vendetta from the highest official of the land who uses government resources to run after his critics.

Of course all media entities are business establishments as well, and understandably, many of them probably feel that distancing themselves from the issue will spare them the wrath of this administration. But, the red flag there is, if it can be done to a news giant, it can easily quash the lesser ones.

Some colleagues were probably told by their bosses not to join any protests for and in behalf of ABS-CBN even if they want to, but we were there, not only because we believed that the network’s franchise must be renewed, but more importantly to raise our voices to protect press freedom.

It is obvious that what has been happening to some media outfits like Rappler, The Philippine Daily Inquirer, and ABS-CBN is harassment of the press, as they are perceived to be critical of this administration.

Notwithstanding the fact that even if news were ‘slanted,’ these were backed up by documentary evidences, that, of course, this administration does not want the public to know.

Compare it to the ones dished out by news agencies controlled by the government and their so-called writers and propagandists who have been called-out numerous times for publishing fake stories and photos and one will clearly see that the ABS-CBN issue and those faced by other huge media outfits, were nothing more than curtailing the freedom of the press.

However, there lies the problem because despite the obvious, many plainly refuse to clearly see the underlying issue that led to the delay in renewing ABS-CBN’s franchise, this, despite getting clearance from government agencies that as per their knowledge, the giant network has not violated any law that may warrant the revocation of their franchise.

The previous weeks’ activities, from the snowballing of support, not just from the president’s allies in the Senate, but from the public, made the President wash his hands off the issue, saying he has nothing to do it, nor will interfere with what Congress decides.

Really? Only someone still blinded will not see that the entire scenario had his hands all over it.

I am actually more accepting if people are obvious blind followers who have no intellect to discern what is wrong or right in what this administration is doing, than someone who pretends to be blind or “nagbubulag-bulagan at nag tatanga-tangahan.”

But I guess, this administration has been feeling the heat as more and more people are realizing that this is simply sheer abuse of power and some of them, including the President’s daughter,

Sara, whom many are saying has ambitions to inherit the seat of her father, has publicly announced that she is supporting the network’s franchise renewal.

Her words were like magic, prompting members of the House of Representatives to call on their leadership, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, to schedule a hearing on the matter as they have clearly been sitting on it.

What made me laugh, though, was the proposal to just temporarily extend the franchise for a year, till 2021, while they continue deliberating on the 25-year franchise. Sounds so fishy as this could just mean an appeasement of sort to probably negotiate with the network and make them beholden to some demands especially with 2022 as the year to elect a new president.

But will Cayetano agree to it? That would mean he is subservient to Sara who can quash his own ambitions for the vice-presidency or even the top post. Will he like that image of him with his hands tied down to kowtow to some woman? But then again, he is a political animal who has clearly showed us that he will do everything in his power to remain in power. And to think there was a time that I admired this guy! Jeez!

For some of us in the industry who see this as more than a threat to shut down the giant network, but as a clear warning that this administration can shut up the media, we will continue to lend our voices and support ABS-CBN. I hope many more from our ranks will join in the coming weeks until this issue is resolved.

I may be reading too much in the actuations of those who honked in support of our call, but I feel some hope, especially from many jeepney drivers and commuters who honked and shouted their support with raised fists, that just perhaps, the people are starting to wake up and finally seeing this administration for what it is. Keeping my fingers crossed and praying harder for that.*

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