By Jun Ledesma

And the saga ended

“THAT'S All Folks” It’s now over. The saga of the powerful and influential broadcast network in the Philippines, ABS CBN, has ended. For half a century the network was the country’s king-make. Its owners make up for what seems like a shadow government only more powerful as it dictates the terms and conditions in the executive and legislative departments whoever sits there.

It took martial law to deprive the Network of its power...but only for a brief period. When the Cory government took over and assume dictatorial authority under a revolutionary government, she restored the Network back to the Lopezes in a silver platter, refurbished and gratis et amore. From then on it reboot its operations under the flagship - Benpres Holdings. ABS CBN was the prime propaganda machine of the fledgling and floundering government of Corazon Aquino and in no time at all regained its power and influence. So powerful was the Network and docile were the administrations during and after Cory, that its sister companies borrowed money from the Development Bank of the Philippines and were mysteriously written off. And the firm had created a maze domestic and foreign outfits that creatively evade billions of pesos in taxes.

And then came an unbelievable development which elicited curiosity. Was there a falling out in its cozy affair between the Lopezes and the Aquinos? In 2014, in anticipation of the end of the life of the ABS CBN franchise, the Network applied for renewal with Aquino-controlled Congress. The legislators who earlier impeached and convicted Supreme Court Justice Renato Corona with an incentivized directives from Malacanang junked the renewal application of the Network’s franchise. Because it was yet three years before the term of Aquino ends, there were no stirrings from within the Network but even then was surprising.

The Lopezes had three long years to work out for another 25-year extension of its franchise with then Pres. Benigno Simeon Aquino III but this seemed to have been placed in a freezer. Talks were rife with rumors that the Network was asked to render a vital task of wooing voters to elect Mar Roxas, the Liberal Party, and Aquino-anointed Presidential candidate. It looks like the Network did its part of the bargain and it even went to the extent of canceling the paid advertisement of Rodrigo R. Duterte who had overtaken Roxas in the surveys. If that was not foul enough, the Network instead aired an anti-Duterte ad that used children to demean the Davao City Mayor.

True Duterte was hurting with the roughshod treatment he got from the Network, but had forgiven the management and advised them to just donate the amount he paid for the unaired political ads to charity.

With the rejection of the renewal of the franchise of ABS CBN, the sound and fury of those supportive of the Network placed the blame on Duterte. The votes of the members of the Congressional Committee on Franchises against the renewal was overwhelming. In the course of the very lengthy deliberation of the House of Representatives, not a word was heard from Duterte who, along with the Cabinet members were busy working on how to contain the spread of COVID 19. The opposition senators of course condemned the decision. Even Sen. Dick Gordon said that the “cancellation” of the franchise will have a chilling effect on the Philippine press. He forgot that the ABS CBN franchise had expired and even the Supreme Court said so.

But listening to the litany of issues against the Network and the owners, it will be scandalous for Congress to grant it another lease. So grave and shocking were the revelations that provided us the answer why even the Aquino Congress, jettisoned its renewal application. A chilling effect on the media? As I write this piece major broadcast network had been assailing the Congress for not resurrecting ABS CBN. Will it mean the demise of press freedom in the Philippines? Far from it. Thousands of broadcast and media outlets including those in social media platforms operate in an unbridled fashion. Of course, we will miss the funny and bits of bawdy antics of Vice Ganda and the violent scenes of Ang Probinsyano on primetime.

As the Looney tunes would conclude each series: "THAT’S ALL FOLKS".



About the Columnist

Image of Jun Ledesma

Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.