[OPINION] Cayetano’s ABS-CBN gambit

[OPINION] Cayetano’s ABS-CBN gambit
'It’s a hostage situation. Hopefully there are right-minded senators or Supreme Court justices who could take down the hostage-takers.'

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano thinks people have short memories.

Apparently stung by public backlash over the shutdown of ABS-CBN due to an expired franchise, Cayetano all of a sudden found the time and energy to marshal the House of Representatives into the process of granting the country’s top television network a temporary lease on life. (READ: Cayetano lashes out at critics: ABS-CBN franchise issue ‘not about silencing media’)

House Bill 6732 went through a “committee of the whole” and passed second reading at record speed – an hour and a half – on Wednesday, May 13.

But not before Cayetano trained his guns on almost everyone, from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) that ordered ABS-CBN shut after promising to let it operate beyond the expiration of its franchise on May 5, to Solicitor General Jose Calida who had pressured the NTC to do so, and to media groups and fellow lawmakers who condemned the network’s abrupt closure.

Cayetano must have been shocked at how the public laid the blame squarely (and correctly) on his feet despite his efforts to pass it to the NTC and Calida.

The way Cayetano railroaded the temporary franchise during Wednesday’s hybrid session only highlighted the fact that under his leadership the House did nothing on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal bills for all of 5 months before the country went on lockdown, and for no reason other than to exact revenge on behalf of President Rodrigo Duterte, who publicly vowed to shut down the Lopez-led ABS-CBN in December.

Flipping it

Yet Cayetano, Duterte’s chief implementer, turned around and made it appear he did ABS-CBN and the rest of the country a huge favor by suddenly springing to action on the franchise. Much like how he acknowledged how his late father, Renato Cayetano, the original “Compañero,” was catapulted to national fame by legal advice shows on ABS-CBN, only for the son to turn his back on it.

The thing with Cayetano is he often does a bad job in countering the narrative when it goes against him, to the point of going to war against facts and timelines. He shouldn’t be surprised if no one takes his call for unity seriously when in the same breath he uses the divisive labels “dilawan” and “DDS” to address the public.

No one ever said ABS-CBN should be granted a franchise without public hearing. The House should have done that months ago and treated ABS-CBN the same way as its competitors, GMA Network and TV5, both of which were able to get fresh licenses without going through the eye of the needle.

But Cayetano and his allies would have the public believe there were numerous roadblocks to the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, citing for instance its supposed biased election coverage and unfair labor practices.

These issues don’t really wash and the same things could be said of ABS-CBN’s rivals. GMA and TV5 have had their own share of labor issues, and no country in the free world would shut down a TV network over election news. Not even Donald Trump would pull the plug on CNN for repeatedly exposing him as unfit for the Oval Office during the 2016 US election.

These lines of attack have only exposed the great lengths to which Cayetano and others in the pro-Duterte camp would go to do Duterte’s bidding and clamp down on the critical news media.

Flagship evening newscast TV Patrol is still able to broadcast on Facebook, they say. They forget that the rest of ABS-CBN programming, from Umagang Kay Ganda to O Shopping, is gone from the airwaves. So are the ads, revenues from which the livelihoods of 11,000 workers depended.

There are also corners of the archipelago that could only be reached by ABS-CBN’s broadcast signals and have lost access to the news needed to keep people informed amid the COVID-19 pandemic and entertainment to while the quarantine away.

In February, Cayetano himself said he would keep the TV signals up and switch on ABS-CBN’s broadcast transmitter if regulators shut it down. He’s actually on the same boat as the NTC now, and it’s funny how he used his sponsorship speech to wiggle out of his bluster.

“Diba voluntary n’yong pinatay ang transmitter ‘nyo?” was among the many truth-bending statements he uttered before the hollowed halls of the Batasan on Wednesday.

I belched an involuntary laugh in my locked-down lonesome when I heard it. Cayetano seemed to have forgotten that ABS-CBN was served not a mere notice by the NTC, but a cease-and-desist order that had immediate effect according to no less than Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, the one who ironically didn’t want ABS-CBN to shut down.

This was the same ABS-CBN that got nothing in return after agreeing to broadcast Cayetano’s Southeast Asian Games hosting, and inviting him and other members of the Cayetano clan as special guests to its New Year 2020 countdown at Bonifacio Global City.

Did he really think ABS-CBN would get itself into more trouble with the NTC and grovel some more so he could play the hero and put the network back on air?

Instead of physically switching on ABS-CBN’s transmitter, what Cayetano’s House did was to kick the can down the road so they could calm the criticism in the meantime and move, ostensibly, to pressing matters such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the five-month reprieve could turn out to be a clever gambit for ABS-CBN to behave or else lose the chance to get a 25-year franchise.

It’s not the “right thing to do,” to borrow the speaker’s words, which he said he had borrowed from his late father. It’s a hostage situation. Hopefully there are truly right-minded senators or Supreme Court justices who could take down the hostage-takers. – Rappler.com

Felipe F. Salvosa II heads the journalism program of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.

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