‘Too big to fail’
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - February 17, 2020 - 12:00am

American media has used the term time and again referring to companies and businesses that are so large, or supply products that are a lifeline to the nation or employ so many people or involve huge amounts of money that if such a company or business were to fail, the US economy itself would take a serious hit, Thus the term “Too big to fail”, because the country simply can’t or won’t allow it. More often than not, regulators will help restructure or bail out the business.

In the Philippines, people are deliberating on whether or not ABS-CBN is too big to fail because it employs 11,000 people, is a publicly listed company with many subsidiaries, and most importantly is the biggest media outlet in the country serving millions of Filipinos here and abroad. Turning off their news and entertainment channel is like closing the water supply for Metro Manila. One other concern is that if ABS-CBN shuts down due mainly to the anger and spite of President Duterte and the subservience of the House of Representatives to his will, it will bring about global condemnation from Media practitioners, organizations as well as democratic governments that place a premium on Freedom of the Press and the independence of media. Even worse it makes Congress a stamp pad that costs the Filipino too much money for to little use. Unfortunately, the President does not give a shit about international opinion. We now live in a place where the government particularly the President is directly initiating the shake up and potential shuttering of businesses and investment. To be fair, the President has always stood on solid legal and moral grounds. His issues have always been about non-tax payments, one-sided contracts, or violations of contracts. Whether or not he is just using these as an excuse to abuse power will be up to history and the judiciary three years from now.

When the President went after certain businessmen early in his term, it is interesting to note that a Taipan and a big cigarette magnate quickly responded by settling their “debts” with the government. When Duterte balked at the decision of an international arbitration panel regarding claims by the two water concessionaires, not only did he get both companies to forego what the court said the government had to pay, Duterte actually addressed controversial provisions of the concessionaire agreements or contracts and had them changed. Now we find Duterte fuming at ABS-CBN for taking his campaign money but never airing his advertisement.  But he is just one of many candidates who did not get aired or could not get aired due to traffic or cost. Congressman Lito Atienza recently shared with me that in spite of his own son working at the station, he too “paid but was not aired.”

It is very possible that some supervisor or even a manager was shuffling things around and made decisions at his or her level with no regard for the outcome. We must all remember that ABS CBN is a huge organization that is equally bureaucratic and segmented like the government. Minions make mistakes, managers exercise bad judgment, but it’s not an excuse to go after the owners or the company. I worked for ABS-CBN/ANC for seven years and I can say with conviction that contrary to general impressions, I never once heard any of the Lopezes give instructions or directives related to political views or agendas. In fact, there was one campaign season when Gabby Lopez told us not to entertain or undertake interviews of candidates just to be impartial. After that, Gabby left the country and someone from within soon tried to make me interview a candidate. I cited Gabby Lopez’s instructions and flatly refused. That did not make me popular.

On one occasion, I was partnered with Winnie Monsod in a program and Tita Winnie went after the tax liabilities of a Taipan non-stop for one week. As co-host, I acknowledged her points and critique. On the seventh day we rested – as in we lost our show. I also got taken out of another segment and was left with nothing but my ANC program “Straight Talk”, which by God’s grace became quite popular at the time. By sheer coincidence, on the very day we lost the program, someone had arranged dinner with the Taipan who told me that he took no offense, that he respected our views and honors the memory of my father Louie Beltran. I politely told the Taipan that all was well and that he had nothing to worry about because I was fired from my job that morning.

His facial reaction told me that it was a shock and surprise for him. He quickly said he did not like such a thing and would make a few calls to fix the situation. I politely said no thank you because I had no desire to work with certain individuals who would dump Winnie Monsod and me just to avoid conflict with advertisers or to protect their jobs. I remember Dong Puno once said that Malacañang was no big deal considering he has worked in a bigger snake pit. It was a sad analogy considering I have met and worked with some of the nicest and most principled people in the industry in ABS-CBN. But it’s true there are some snakes there, the same way there are people who commit stupid mistakes in managing traffic of political advertisements. It is as simple as that. I don’t know if ABS-CBN ever apologized publicly for their failure to air the Duterte’s campaign ad. Perhaps they should and then let’s see if the President is really being righteous, vindictive or are there unseen hands who simply want to wear out ABS-CBN in order to pick and choose from the menu of resources. An apology and some form of compensation should suffice. But if Congressmen insists on back-channeling, closed door conferences and the likes, then we in media will also have to protect our industry, even our competitors because this is about Freedom of the Press versus abuse of power!

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