POSTSCRIPT / February 27, 2020 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Imbibe the forgiving atmosphere of Lent

MOST of us tough nuts may not be feeling it yet, but the penitential mood of Lent could be creeping up on us starting with Ash Wednesday yesterday.

Let’s not resist the Lenten grace at work among us. Let’s allow a miraculous transformation of ourselves and the nation, or see at least a semblance of conversion before the end of the 40-day test in the desert.

We caught a hint of Lent when the chief executive of ABS-CBN publicly apologized to President Duterte in the Senate hearing on Monday, and when Duterte’s staunchest loyalists promised to convince him to ease his objections to the network’s continued operation.

Filipinos have suffered enough by being bitterly divided even on petty issues and allowing venganza to rule our hearts. It is time we learned to forgive and concede good faith in those who disagree with us.

In his Lenten message, Pope Francis said: “This year the Lord grants us, once again, a favorable time to prepare to celebrate with renewed hearts the great mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the cornerstone of our personal and communal Christian life. We must continually return to this mystery in mind and heart, for it will continue to grow within us in the measure that we are open to its spiritual power and respond with freedom and generosity.”

At Monday’s Senate hearing on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal where the network’s chief executive Carlo Katigbak was expected to deliver a “fighting” speech defending their not airing some TV campaign ads of Duterte in 2016, he surprised many when he apologized:

“We’re sorry if we offended the President, that was not the intention of the network… ABS-CBN does not and will not have its own political agenda.”

Saying sorry for their misunderstood handling of campaign materials, Katigbak explained that the network offered national and local slots for political ads during the 2016 campaign.

He said that all Duterte national ads worth P117 million were broadcast, that only some of his local ads, worth P2.6 million, were not aired because other ads received earlier already filled the two-minute-per-hour limit for local ads. The network sent a refund check to Duterte but it was not accepted.

On the network’s airing some political ads that the Duterte camp said should have been rejected because they maligned the President, Katigbak said that under the Omnibus Election Code, “lawful election propaganda includes propaganda for or against a candidacy.”

Pointing out that “we were required not to discriminate against any candidate,” he cited the Fair Elections Act saying: “(E)lection propaganda whether on television, cable television, radio, newspapers or any other medium is hereby allowed for all registered political parties, national, regional, sectoral parties or organizations participating under the party-list elections and for all bona fide candidates seeking national and local elective positions.”

It appears that Duterte, whose supermajority rules both chambers of the Congress, has been the main obstacle to the franchise’s renewal. For how long?

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez recently quoted Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, House franchise committee chair, as saying that the franchise could not move forward because, “wala pang clearance sa itaas (there’s no clearance yet from above).”

Added to the politicized air are the statements of Duterte that he would block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise. The advice to media of his spokesman Salvador Panelo that the President should not be taken seriously has not cleared the air.

Panelo belittled Katigbak’s public apology: “They only apologized after they were lambasted… Dapat noon pa nila ginawa (They should have done that earlier).”

He added, however, that he was glad ABS-CBN admitted its shortcomings: “That’s what the President has been saying. You know you did something wrong… Did you do anything about it? None. That’s what he called hubris. You are too arrogant.”

But how come some Duterte loyalists in the Congress are no longer as harsh in their comments about ABS-CBN as they usually are when he is criticized? Have they sensed that the President himself is getting more tolerant – and forgiving?

Sen. Bong Go, who still serves Duterte as a personal aide, is no longer shutting out a franchise renewal. In fact, he is now saying that he would “appeal” to the President for a franchise renewal considering that more than 11,000 workers will be affected.

He explains: “All the President wants is fair reporting. Kung masama ka sa pangulo, mas magiging masama siya sa’yo (If you are bad to the president, he will treat you worse).”

Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, another close ally of the President who has endured ridicule for his loyalty to his chief, now says: “I’m one step closer to supporting ABS-CBN.”

Several other Duterte allies in the Senate and the House seem to be having a Lenten change of heart. They have been talking lately about having an open mind on the renewal of the 25-year franchise set to expire on May 4.

The advancing of the Senate hearing, ahead that of the House where franchise measures originate, seems to have helped clarify the allegations that the Lopez-controlled network has been violating the terms of its license.

The Senate hearing chaired by Sen. Grace Poe also helped answer in the public mind the objections raised by Solicitor General Jose Calida in his quo warranto petition with the Supreme Court to revoke the franchise.

The Senate drew statements from the proper agencies answering the SolGen’s allegations that ABS-CBN has not been paying the right taxes, is making illegal commercial transactions, and is allowing foreigners to be part-owners and managers in violation of the Constitution.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 27, 2020)

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