[OPINION | NEWSPOINT] Where is the outrage?

 

Outrage is the mildest righteous reaction one might expect to be provoked by two of the latest issues to confront the nation. And there’s scarcely any such thing.

How could the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States and the government suit seeking to take back from ABS-CBN its broadcasting franchise be met with anything less than a mass outpouring of protests? How, indeed, given the doomful prospects for sovereignty and freedoms that these issues raise?

The VFA is already a much diluted form of the arrangement that allowed the US to retain its air and naval bases in the Philippines even in post-colonial times, up to 1992: under the VFA, American troops can only visit for military exercises with Filipino comrades. If the Philippines has not changed its mind by about midyear the VFA also goes. 

The case takes a Shakespearean quality. King Rodrigo swings away with his sword screaming, proffering a crazy deal: the VFA for an American visa for a favorite horse – Bato de la Rosa. 

De la Rosa was national police chief until his retirement in 2018 and won a Senate seat in the midterms last year. In the last 4 years he traveled at least twice to Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, to watch Manny Pacquiao, the world boxing champion (now, also a senior senator to him), fight. Squeezed in the first trip was some holidaymaking with his family, paid for by Paquiao, by his own proud admission. Recently he found out that his visa had been invalidated. 

Presumably, he is covered by the newly imposed US ban on the persecutors of Senator Leila de Lima, held in detention without bail for 3 years now and on trial for the implausible charge of conspiracy in drug trafficking, an allegation thrown around too often by the Duterte regime to be credible; De lima is more credibly a victim of vendetta – for hounding Duterte for human rights offenses, the same offenses for which he has been sued in the International Criminal Court, in The Hague, the Netherlands.  

Known to act on impulse and protect his men and horses by all means, Duterte could have surprised no one with his visa-for-VFA deal, as absurd as it is. But known as well to bash the US every chance he gets and to have been increasingly cozying up to China, he must have, you’d think, a less than simpleminded agenda or some Rasputin-like prompters. 

Duterte’s US bashing either attracts or alienates the opposite fanatics on the ideological spectrum, thus creating a situation where reason cannot be expected to prevail. The non-ideological public, on the other hand, is mostly too confused or misinformed or ignorant to be able to make out anything of the issue, let alone relate it to something inedible like national interest or sovereignty; hence, the bland reaction. But rescued from the propagandistic manipulation of ideologues, politicians, and other opportunists, the issue can be made graspable.  

For all the neocolonialist motives imputed, and conceivably actually attached, to it, the VFA still can serve the Philippine interest if deployed to restore balance to the power equation in these parts after Duterte tilted it to favor China when he ceded the West Philippine Sea to it. 

With the Chinese now in control of those resource-rich and strategic waters – and possibly in control of Duterte himself, a suspicion bolstered by other ridiculous favors he has as readily given them (taking out costly loans from them, indiscriminately admitting their nationals and allowing them to compete with the locals for jobs and in business) – the American forces, by their presence alone, could deter Chinese hegemony there. 

Similarly, the ABS-CBN issue portends extensive and serious repercussions. It is simplified to look like it affects only a single organization, but, where the purpose is to deceive, it is complicated. Harry Roque was mostly right when he told ANC, the ABS-CBN subsidiary, that the “experts” it had been guesting were only confusing the issue, and even more right when he went on to do precisely the same disservice himself. 

He discussed the wooly legalities enveloping the case filed against ABS-CBN in the Supreme Court by Solicitor General Jose Calida, a resident sycophant like him when he was the premier presidential apologist. He was sacked by Duterte and replaced by Sal Panelo in a rare double humiliation accomplished in one go. Appearing on ANC after making himself scarce for some time, he sounded trying to ingratiate himself back with the old gang, supporting Duterte and Calida in another vindictive enterprise – they also have been harassing Rappler with suits. 

They simply don’t like both Rappler and ABS-CBN, and don’t mind saying so openly. In fact, on the very day that he filed his suit, Calida recognized an ABS-CBN reporter in a crowd and reminded him that he particularly disliked him and told him he would see him in court. 

Actually, for journalists, being disliked by the likes of Duterte and Calida is a professional validation, a sort of badge of freedom, and freedom is what the ABS-CBN issue is all about: Calida wants the Supreme Court to revoke the ABS-CBN broadcast franchise on his representation of allegations of tax evasion and securities-law violations – allegations being disputed with official certifications. 

In any case, those allegations are irrelevant to broadcast franchising, a technical function for keeping order on the radio spectrum, a platform on which places have to be allocated among broadcast networks because it cannot accommodate everyone. The fair thing seems to me to keep the current franchisees and tell the applicants who cannot be accommodated to try other platforms – cyberspace, for one, is limitless.  

To be sure, the Supreme Court has gone along with Calida before, for Duterte, but don’t give them the satisfaction of thinking they got everyone fooled. To go after ABS-CBN is to challenge the first-ranked among democratic freedoms – freedom of expression, from which derives freedom of the press, on which in turn the public at large relies for its right to know so that it may be able to make informed choices.  

Surely, foremost in Duterte’s mind is the choice for his successor in the 2022 vote, if it comes to that, for on that choice rest his chances of escaping accountability. Meanwhile, he wants ABS-CBN and Rappler and other media he cannot co-opt out of the way. – Rappler.com