President Rodrigo Duterte’s attempt to shut down ABS-CBN through quo warranto is not unexpected. Cracking down on the press has always been part of the modus operandi of aspiring dictators.
Like any wannabe dictator, Duterte is actually scared of a re-franchised ABS-CBN and a free media. He is terrified that the media has and can expose acts of corruption, ineptitude, treason, and tyranny. That these are the hallmarks of the Duterte regime is the fault of Duterte, not the media’s.
The corrupt Jose Calida, for instance, has lots to hide and thus is angry at an independent media’s audacity to ask him, a public official, about his apparent misuse of political power.
Duterte has enjoyed top media coverage since taking office. Journalists have reported his every word and action. But although he pretends to be a strongman, he is actually a coward who refuses to disclose his health records and answer other questions from journalists. He hides his terror of being found out through a barrage of curses and incongruent statements, while members of his regime engage in disinformation and echo his hateful rhetoric.
We call on our colleagues in ABS-CBN and across the media landscape to stand against a president and a regime which abuses its power, to report and to expose, and not to be terrified by this patently tyrannical quo warranto. We must refuse Duterte’s chosen narrative of making us defend press freedom when it is our right and obligation to ask questions and to report on matters important to the nation.
If Duterte cannot live with ABS-CBN, he could always just watch PTV. If Duterte cannot honestly respond to questions from journalists, or if he is too sensitive to criticism and dissent, he should just leave the office and retire in Beijing.
But Duterte has apparently made a choice. And he has decided that he alone decides who must report and how the report should be written. Before, it was Rappler. Then, the alternative media. Now, it is ABS-CBN. Their crime is to think and to report freely.
The new dictatorship is the problem, not ABS-CBN and not the press.
Congress must seize back what the dictator Duterte is trying to steal: Its exclusive constitutional power to grant franchises.
What must we journalists, artists, and citizens do?
To paraphrase a philosopher, the Philippines will be better off without a dictator, than without a free press.
We must unite to nip the new dictatorship by the bud. ###