Right before COVID-19 hit us, readers of this space might recall my laying out (on Feb. 12) the two-pronged attack against ABS-CBN unfolding at the time. The Solicitor General would lead the charge through the (hopefully obliging) courts, challenging the return of the network to the Lopezes after the fall of the dictatorship, while administration lieutenants in the House of Representatives either rejected outright, or allowed to expire without renewal, the franchise of the network. But then the pandemic struck, and the courts, from the Supreme Court on down, shut down for most of the quarantine period.
Back then, it was already clear that while extremely damaging, denial of a franchise in and of itself would not necessarily be a mortal blow to the Lopezes and their network. Streaming content could continue unimpaired, a potential lifeline until more reasonable times (and more, as streaming’s the future, as Netflix proved). Simply depriving the network of its broadcast frequencies would still leave it with equipment and property, which would raise the stakes for anyone wanting to use the frequencies — they would have to build a new network up from scratch.
Which is why even as the House inched forward to its predetermined end game of rejecting the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, a battle of the ninetysomethings became a sideshow in the House, pitting Jake Almeda-Lopez of ABS-CBN versus Juan Ponce Enrile. This was on June 17, over the details and circumstances surrounding the Marcos-era takeover of the network and its facilities during the dictatorship. The case had to be made before the court of public opinion, for the necessary next step in the end game of a hostile takeover of the network. The problem with going down memory lane in this manner is it simply reeducates a new generation of citizens on the skulduggery of the dictator and his minions: extortion compounded by non-delivery on promises made.
So something else had to be thought up, which is why in a Zoom teleconference ostentatiously shared online by some of its participants, five administration congressmen beat their chests and bared their fangs, talking about the need and the manner to take away the land and equipment of ABS-CBN. One made a pitch for employees to band together to take the network away from its owners, another came up with a kind of witchdoctor math for calculating the trillions that could be levied against the network as penalties for selling digital boxes, to kill it financially, and the others threw in every possible angle to further foster a feeling in anyone watching that resistance is futile.
There is a kind of expertise here at work, and it involves code-switching, or the use of loaded terms to boost the morale of the faithful and weaken the resolve of everyone else. “Oligarchs” is thrown around, which ties up in knots academics and other people who take terminology seriously, even as its actual meaning is best understood in the vernacular boast, “Panahon na namin” (“It’s our time” hardly conveys the combined entitlement and chieftain-led pillage of the original), with all its sweeping indifference to past precedents, the need for self-control on the part of the powerful, the actual law, or simple fair play. The House wrote a long report saying in dozens of paragraphs what the homegrown saying says in three words, while observers wrung their hands in shock and disbelief over how the House ignored government agencies that testified the network didn’t actually violate any laws.
This also involves conspiracy theories of varying levels of incredibility, leaving the sober-minded and law-abiding to exhaust themselves going down multiple rabbit holes to disprove they lead anywhere but to dead ends. The point is to confuse and distract, exhaust and depress, any and all who think differently from the despoilers. If at first you don’t succeed — the company union flatly rejected one congressman’s attempt to set employees up against the network’s management; Jake Almeda-Lopez held his own against Enrile and friends in testimony followed avidly online — sooner or later you still might weaken the resolve of either the network owners or its shareholders to fight on, and thus obtain what you might otherwise fail to do if you relied on the actual strength of your arguments.
Still, while this plays out, the fact remains that the network with the widest reach and ability to keep the public informed is down and out. Other networks have been excluded from covering the President’s forthcoming State of the Nation Address; to be followed by what Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez says will be his committee on amendments in the House convening to discuss a renewed push for charter change, this time supposedly spearheaded by the league of mayors.