[OPINION] The ABS-CBN hearings: A theater of the absurd

A theater of the absurd — that’s what the hearings into ABS-CBN’s application for the renewal of its broadcast franchise have turned into. 

(Having borrowed a phrase already taken as a proper name, for a literary movement in the fifties and sixties, and using it here in a rather unsavory context, I think apologies are only in order.) 

Actually, the hearings have descended from absurdity to absurdity, and may have reached the point of denouement in the week now ending. One never knows what pits the Congress has the stomach for, but it seems clear that the nadir of absurdity has been, for all intents and purposes, reached. 

Every one of their allegations — violations of labor and securities laws, tax evasion, foreign ownership, etc. — having been disproved decisively, the congressmen who don’t want the franchise renewed have had their last veil of disguise peeled off to reveal Rodrigo Duterte’s face contorted in vengeful and narcissistic contempt for ABS-CBN, all for an old slight — it had no airtime to spare for a couple of campaign advertisements for his successful presidential run in 2016. (READ: [PODCAST] Law of Duterte Land: ABS-CBN and the 3 tangled branches of government)

To begin with, none of those allegations, even if proved, would constitute a justification for denying ABS-CBN. But again, to prove anything seems hardly the point, but, rather, simply to close ABS-CBN, with or without justification. 

All tricks of concealment now exhausted and defeated, the tricksters turned on the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) in supreme annoyance. Already licensed to operate outside fair practice — like allowing a franchisee to continue operating on an expired franchise while the application for its renewal is pending with Congress — NTC still could not jerk ABS-CBN off the air with one shutdown order. Like an inept hit man, it failed to finish the job: ABS-CBN remained very much around. 

NTC had to issue a second order, to stop ABS-CBN using time bought from another franchisee, an arrangement also authorized by NTC. Now completely off the radio band and confined to cable and cyberspace, the network should feel safer lying outside the jurisdiction of Congress, the franchisee, and NTC, the franchise regulator. 

But safer only in theory. Against the long arm of Duterte, no one is really safe. 

All this ugly theater playing live on national television, truth and justice have never stared the Duterte regime in the face so hard and so publicly. If still, amid such open shaming, Congress remains unchastened and votes no, it will lose what is left, if any, of its moral standing. 

Panatang Makabayan

For all the disingenuousness, viciousness, and absurdities that have pervaded them, the hearings have had their own instructive value — thanks to Rodante Marcoleta.    

Did Eugenio Lopez III remember his "Panatang Makabayan?" he asked Lopez.

It was a classic Marcoleta question: mindless, offensive, and irrelevant, and predictable in each case. It was asked after the fact had been established that Lopez had been, always, a Filipino citizen. (READ: Netizens hit Marcoleta's 'distasteful' use of Kim Chiu video at ABS-CBN hearing)

But there’s something rather aberrant about Marcoleta: he just won’t stop flogging a dead horse, whether it be the Lopez citizenship or any other carcass, which is the precise lifeless state common to all the issues raised against ABS-CBN. 

He tried to breathe new life into the issue of citizenship by equating it with allegiance. I guess if it didn’t make too much of a mess he’d have had Lopez’s breast hacked open and, finding no “Panatang Makabayan” engraved in his heart, had him declared non-Filipino, as such ineligible to own any part of ABS-CBN. 

Mercifully, Marcoleta only asked if Lopez remembered his “Patriotic Pledge” (that’s the title’s translation in English by my recollection; now it’s “Pledge of Allegiance”). Never mind whether Lopez ever led his network — whose motto, as Marcoleta reminded him constantly, is “In the service of the Filipino” — in reciting the pledge after a mass singing of “Bayang Magiliw,” the national anthem, as the nation’s flag ran up the pole; but did he even remember the pledge? 

Me — I did seem to remember, but, to make sure, not taking any chances with Marcoleta, I decided to look and review. And I was afforded a recognition of the significance in these times of a pledge I had taken by childish rote to a country I had thought I owed by virtue alone of its being “the land of my birth” and “the home of my race.” 

I looked now, with senior sense, and saw a contract, and have realized, Hey, my country owes me, too! Look yourself:

Panatang Makabayan

Iniibig ko ang Pilipinas.
Ito ang aking lupang sinilangan.
Ito ang tahanan ng aking lahi.
Ako’y kanyang kinukupkop at tinutulungan upang maging malakas, maligaya, at kapakipakinabang.

Bilang ganti, diringgin ko ang payo ng aking mga magulang.
Susundin ko ang mga tuntunin ng aking paaralan.
Tutuparin ko ang mga tungkulin ng isang mamamayang makabayan at masunurin sa batas 

Paglilingkuran ko ang aking bayan nang walang pag-iimbot at nang buong katapatan. 
Sisikapin kong maging isang tunay na Pilipino sa isip, sa salita, at sa gawa.

The clear deal is for my country “to harbor and protect and help” me — which, of course, it can only do personified by the proper leadership — so that I may become “a strong, happy, and useful citizen,” and that only by such a fair exchange may my country count on my allegiance.

I wonder if Marcoleta realizes that, too. Indeed, I wonder what pledge he himself remembers and recites, and what country he pledges himself to. 

The lesson in patriotism he inspired should be useful as well in the case of Lea Salonga, the singer and actor of world renown. She was a recent victim of social-media savagery; many were quick to jump her after she had posted online that she found her country hard to love: “Dear Pilipinas, p*****ina, ang hirap mong mahalin.” 

Not only do I perfectly understand her, I do empathize with her.

But simple-minded, pretentious, and malicious others took her swear phrase, intended unmistakably as an interjection of frustration, and made it look as if she had aimed it at mother country.  

Learn from Marcoleta: Look at your "Panatang Makabayan." – Rappler.com