During the last three months of the coronavirus pandemic Filipinos have seen at least three significant manifestations of the ruling government’s obsession with its effort to suppress opposition and criticism. First, the the conviction of Rappler chief Maria Ressa for libel, the first of many harassment cases against her currently pending with the courts. Then, the vigorous passage of the “Anti” Terrorism Law, which among other things, allows a council made up of the President’s alter-egos to authorize the warrantless arrest and detention for up to 24 days of any person they may designate and suspect as “terrorists”. Then, just today, the denial by the House of Representatives of a new broadcast franchise to the country’s largest broadcaster, ABS-CBN, effectively shutting it down and depriving millions of Filipinos, especially those in far-flung islands of this country, of crucial information and entertainment in this pandemic. Other recent manifestations of suppression include violent dispersals and numerous arrests and detentions imposed against ordinary citizens who have taken to the streets their expression of resistance.
I have my own opinion on some of the issues ABS-CBN was implicated in–notably that of its labor policies regarding “talents”, and of the tax avoidance schemes it employs to legally avoid billions in tax assessments. (That being said, my gripe is really with the government’s labor and tax framework that legally allows all this). But now is not the time to discuss all of that, when the public service rendered by the country’s largest and most pervasive broadcaster is ever more important in a public health and economic crisis. Besides, some of the issues thrown at ABS-CBN are for courts to resolve, not for congressmen to speculate on, or at the very least they can be resolved by Congress without shutting down the network and depriving employment to the company’s 11,000 employees.
For the rest of the issues, there is, in my opinion, nothing technically illegal with what ABS-CBN does because, as I’ve mentioned, the very legal framework that exists today allows the conduct of everything the government is alleging against the broadcaster–from the entry of foreign investment in mass media through depositary receipts, to the tax deductions and incentives ABS-CBN is able to claim to save on taxes, to the labor contracting scheme it hires its workers and ‘talents’ under.