November 29, 2023

In 1990, the Philippine Senate voted not to extend the Philippines-U.S. Bases Agreement. It was a vote for the ages. The senators who voted against renewal were then branded as fools. Their names were scandalized. They were seen as villains who took a stand against the interest of the Filipinos. Truly at that time, what they did was unacceptable and unforgivable. People saw the American bases as a major anchor of the country’s economy and to abrogate it was some sort of a national suicide. Those who were severely affected rallied no end, crying foul, riling the “Magnificent 13” for their disconcerted vote. But the senators stood pat and held their ground. They took the criticisms in stride and let history judge them.
In the end, they were vindicated. Their vote not to renew the extension of the bases agreement turned out right. Now, they are seen as patriots, modern-day heroes who stood for what is correct. They turned out to be the ultimate statesmen. Because of how they voted, their names are spoken with respect and reverence. They are forever etched and immortalized in our memories.
Yes, once in a while, the legislative department of our government takes a historic vote that affects countless lives. Like the voting that happened in the past on whether to renew the Philippines-U.S. Bases Agreement, our elected legislators stand to judge what the future holds for us. This is the essence if a Republican state wherein only a few men with their conscience to rely upon are in power to decide who lives and who dies. What they do in their legislative agenda is as uncertain as the coming of a storm. Only time can tell whether they did right or wrong.
On July 8, 2020, the Philippine Congress took another historic vote. This time, it involves the franchise of ABS-CBN, the biggest network in the country. The vote that was taken was as important as the vote taken 30 years ago pertaining to the Philippines-U.S. bases treaty. Only this time, the stakes are higher. The continued existence of ABS-CBN has the attention of the entire archipelago.
More than entertainment, its coverage transcends cultural, economic, and political barriers. ABS-CBN not only affects the lives of those directly involved in its operation but also the lives of every breathing and living human being who calls himself/herself a Filipino. I guess, all of these pale in comparison to what the Committee on Legislative Franchise perceives as lapses on the part of the network station. Thus, they voted not to renew.
Seventy versus 11. That was how the voting turned out. Seventy voted not to renew and only 11 voted to renew. What does this signify? It is a rout. The voting was not even close. This ridiculous margin only proves that the death knell was already there even before the voting was had. It is too much to ignore that the voting was cast along party lines.
House Speaker Peter Allan Cayetano urged the people to calm down and read the rationale of the decision before making rash actions.
Oh, c’mon, tell that to the marines. Poor people in far-flung areas and those in the city who only have the television to pacify their lives do not read decisions. Granted that they do, they will not understand the legalese behind it. It will only complicate their daily existence. To them, what matters is that they have a reliable station with a good signal where they can watch their favorite telenovelas. For them, it is an escape to the neglect, discrimination, and indifference wrought on a daily basis by a dysfunctional society. For some fleeting moment, they get immersed in what they are watching and feel good about themselves.
While it may be conceded that ABS-CBN has violated certain rules and regulations on the grant of its franchise, this is not an excuse to totally shut down the institution. There are laws that punish whatever violation the network or its personnel may have committed. If it is non-payment of taxes, there is the National Internal Revenue Code to penalize. If it is violation of citizenship requirement, there is the Anti-Dummy Law, the Revised Penal Code, and the Corporation Code to impose sanctions. If it is unfair labor practice, the Labor Code protects the rights of laborers. If it is unfair airing of political ads, the Commission on Elections or the National Telecommunications Commission can regulate.
There are enough criminal and administrative policies that are less daunting than closure that Congress could have used in disciplining ABS-CBN. Yet, it chose to impose the ultimate penalty by denying the station the privilege of serving the Filipino people. It is like imposing the death penalty when the lesser punishment of imprisonment would have sufficed to eliminate the evil sought to be avoided. It is a heartless and a senseless decision.
True, the law is the law. Dura lex sed lex. The law may be harsh but it is the law. But even the law bows to equity at times. As stated by Justice JBL Reyes in many of his decisions, “it is not the word of the law that matters, but the spirit of the law that gives life.” Should not Congress then allow the spirit of the law to prevail by letting the people have what they need?
To deny ABS-CBN the privilege to renew its franchise is to deny the Filipinos the privilege to continue availing themselves of an affordable, cheap and practical medium where they can be in touch with the government, feel the pulse of their congressmen, update themselves of current events, or be informed of what is going on around them.
Perhaps, the 70 congressmen who voted not to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise foresee that, like their predecessors in the Senate who voted not to renew the Philippines-U.S. bases treaty, they will be vindicated in the future. Not this time. Not when what is involved is the right of the people to their life, liberty, and property.