[OPINION] ABS-CBN is dead, and why watching 'The Matrix' helps

Congress finally slew ABS-CBN. And as both sides unleashed their version of the events, what struck me was the statement of the Speaker of the House – where he claimed victory against the oligarchy. 

It stuck because it came from a member of a political dynasty so entrenched that husband and wife are both sitting in Congress. I mean, here was a chamber dominated by the chiefs of a hundred political clans, telling a weary nation grappling with a pandemic that this death was necessary and, for the best. 

It also felt hollow. If this deathblow was struck in the name of the masses, then why does it look like that it is mostly the masses who will suffer?  After all, we all know who ordered the “death” of ABSCBN. (We don’t even need to guess. He already bragged about it.)

Still, it wasn’t the ridiculousness of the message (victory over oligarchs) but the sheer brazenness of selling this myth that stunned me. And I call it a myth because subsequent social media posts showed how some of the politicians who voted “Yes” went about their lives as if nothing happened – eating expensive food, holding birthday parties – after they left 11,000 Filipinos without a livelihood. 

It took a while for me to realize why these disparate events all felt connected. The care-free dinners and parties and the “we fought the oligarchs for you” myth are manifestations of the same problem. Those who condemned entire communities to imminent squalor are members of the most powerful political families. They could have just imposed harsh conditions on the franchise but renewed it nonetheless. Perhaps ABS-CBN has grave sins, but did they really merit “death” considering the lives at stake? And yet they chose “death” anyway. 

What we witnessed is the power of political dynasties in full display – to cause untold suffering in the middle of a global health crisis and leave it to others to fix the mess. To destroy thousands of lives and have the gall to claim it was a “victory” for the masses. To leave the poor with an uncertain future, order a steak for dinner, then post pictures of the food online. The Philippines does not have a monarchy but we have the trappings of it. The 1987 Constitution prohibits slavery, yet we are still “serfs” of a different sort: heads whose price is P,1000 per election. And this “death” was the ultimate act of arrogance because robbing thousands of their jobs during a pandemic can only be done by those who are supremely confident that they will not suffer for it. 

I read several reactions that served as a reminder that this is part of our reality – that noise barrages, petitions, and rants will not move the 70 to care. Why? Because while trapos might be uncaring, they are far from unthinking. They have made the political calculations. Two years is a long time and Filipinos are forgetful. None of those angry now are voters in their district. And those who are voters pose no threat to a family whose grip has held for 20 to 30 years. 

The “death of ABS-CBN” was a dance – one that has been going on for decades. Oligarchs pander to the political lords and vice versa. Don’t take my word for it. The Speaker himself said so when he accused oligarchs of depriving “the country of billions in much needed funds by skirting and bending the law. Many times in connivance with the political elite.” (When politicians don’t even bother hiding the fact that they willingly “connived” with the very oligarchs they just shafted, you know they don’t care.)

This is the true context when the Speaker spoke of “victory.” It was a battle, but one that had nothing to do with us. We are just there to pick up the pieces. 

Letting it end there, however, is precisely what the political dynasties want. A citizenry convinced of its own powerlessness is the easiest to oppress. On the other hand, the way forward can not be as simple as restoring ABS-CBN to its full glory without the lessons learned. To simply renew the franchise without sufficient safeguards will just lead to the same result that has left our countrymen disaffected. 

I spent the next few days reading and talking to people to get a feel for an idea. Surprisingly, I found inspiration by watching a movie. Matrix- Revolutions was part two in a blockbuster trilogy. Near the end, the hero (Neo) was stunned by the villain’s (the Architect) revelation that he was just the latest in a series of “Neos” (the 6th one). And the end of his journey was to “reinsert” himself back into the Matrix so the cycle can be completed. This allows the Matrix to reboot and begin a fresh cycle until a new Neo surfaces. 

That is where we are today. When people like Vicky Garchitorena say that ABS-CBN has died before, they refer to a cycle similar to that of the Matrix. The iterations could be ABS-CBN’s death-rebirth or yet another EDSA revolt. 

And that is why pinning our hopes that ABS-CBN “will rise again” doesn’t change anything – it just “restarts” the cycle. The Speaker’s words, the actions of his colleagues, their brazen lack of care, the dance with the oligarchs, these are all facets of a “matrix” that condition Filipinos that this is the only possible version of reality available. That there are no other choices except those the political and economic elites give us. That just like Neo, this is the world we are born into, and we will depart from. 

The pivotal moment in The Matrix came when the Architect told Neo that every single Neo before him chose to repeat the cycle. This was intentional. The Architects’ plan was to cultivate “Neos” to think only in terms of the choices THEY give them so that they inevitably choose what the Architects wanted them to choose. 

ABS-CBN is dead. But to genuinely move forward from this requires a choice other than what they expect us to pick. We must break free of the loop we were born into. We must stop looking for the next “revolutionary” peak – an “EDSA” or ABS-CBN – because this is just a new “Neo” being created. 

Whatever the eventual solution is, the first step is clear. Refuse to play the game. We must break free from the binary choices (Administration vs. Opposition; ABSCBN vs. Congress) imposed on us and make our own options. Searching for the next “political savior” in 2022 is less important than creating a system that will topple more dynasties in the future. Fight for free speech, press freedom, and other Constitutional values, but do so not as a pawn for any single family, aspiring politician, or political party. 

As for political dynasties, while they feel secure in their provincial bailiwicks, there are other ways to hold them accountable. A family entrenched for decades laughs at collective national anger because they are masters of the electoral game. It is time to flip the table and make that parochial strength their weakness. The 2019 elections showed us which methods work. We must refine those methods. In the same vein, we saw how heirs of some trapos denounced their parents’ vote. This is hope that some younger members of these families are capable of breaking free from their programming. All of these are the building blocks one can use.  

And if there are plans for a people’s initiative, the best use of public sentiment and anger is still an Anti-Dynasty Bill. This is one cause where supporters from both sides of the recent debate can come together. The country needs an organized, funded, and grassroots-driven Anti-Dynasty movement. Businessmen – big and small – must realize this is a far better investment than continuously grooming politicians of insatiable greed.  

None of these are easy. If they were, they would have been done decades ago. But that's why The Matrix helps. Because you realize that the "revolutions" in the title doesn't mean a revolt, but Neo's decision to break the cycle and forge his own path, even if it meant risking Zion (the last human city). Refusing to play the trapos/oligarchs game is a "revolt" by itself. Whatever path we choose, so long as it is driven by constitutional and democratic values, we will be far better off. – Rappler.com

John Molo is a commercial law litigator who enjoys reading and learning about the Constitution and its intersection with politics. He teaches Constitutional Law at UP Law and chairs the Political Law Cluster. He is the President of the Harvard Law School Association of the Philippines, and a past Chairman of the IBP Law Journal. He led the team that sued the Aquino administration and invalidated the PDAF.