FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - July 18, 2020 - 12:00am

Rep. LRay Villafuerte offers a refreshing idea. He proposes, by way of a resolution, that the frequencies formerly used by media giant ABS-CBN be redeployed for use in the “blended” learning to be undertaken by the Department of Education (DepEd).

The idea is refreshing because it is akin to government buying back private land in the city for use as parks and playgrounds, infusing more green public spaces into this grim and grimy concrete jungle. In the case of the idled frequencies, their use would be transferred from conveying entertainment to conveying education.

The idea, however, appears to flounder on the shoals of practicality.

DepEd does not appear prepared to use broadcast content in their “blended” learning program. The agency does not have the capability to produce this content in the short time between now and the projected Aug. 24 opening of schools.

In addition, the idle frequencies are not usable by themselves. They require the network of regional stations and communications towers owned by ABS-CBN. The company might not be inclined to lease out the equipment for DepEd to use. The agency may not have the budget both to lease the network and to quickly produce educational content.

Faced with the practical hindrance, Villafuerte proposes that ABS-CBN, that just announced retrenchment of its employees, sell its assets. But there may be no buyers. Earlier this week, the Udenna Group doused all speculation it might be a potential buyer.

Indeed, who would want to buy a media network without a franchise and saddled with corporate debt? Broadcasting, like print media, is no longer a profit machine. Ad placements have migrated to more efficient online channels.

Anyone who wants to get into this business must have very deep pockets. That takes out the possibility that, as Villafuerte suggests, current employees of the beleaguered network pool money together, buy out the Lopez family, re-apply for a franchise and run the business themselves.

Besides, it seems the Lopez family is clinging to every slightest possibility the franchise application may still be revived. Lawyer Romy Macalintal put out a polemical piece arguing the 84 congressmen who participated in the franchise vote cannot supplant the more than 300 members of the chamber.

From all indications, the franchise question is locked and sealed at committee level. Even if by some genius of a maneuver, it is pried out and brought to the plenary, the same political dynamics will likely hold.

Launching a “people’s initiative” to reverse the decision of the franchise committee is a far-fetched idea. It is simply fraught with all sorts of legal questions and the process will be too costly and too long.

True, as sympathizers of ABS-CBN argue, the decision to deny a franchise is a costly one. When it had its frequencies, the network reached 19 million of the country’s 21 million households. That reach was important in keeping our people informed during previous calamities.

Over 11,000 direct and indirect jobs are likely to be lost because of the denial. With its diminished operations, even the charitable activities undertaken by the network’s foundation will be reduced. This whole episode might have reduced confidence in our business climate.

But our legislators appear steadfast, thinking the costs are short-term and the gains from this decision historic.

No drinking

Makati mayor Abby Binay was not fazed by the fact that a popular rooftop bar in her city was filled with celebrities and influential personalities. She had the police raid the Skye Bar, arrest and detain the patrons found there and shut down the establishment.

In the context of the pandemic taking its daily toll on our people, the bar was engaged in risky behavior. The patrons were packed together and rarely with face coverings. As it happens when enough spirits are imbibed, they tended to throw all medically prescribed caution to the wind.

In addition to that well-publicized raid, Mayor Abby Binay completely banned all drinking in public. While there is no ban on the sale of alcoholic products, the commodity may only be consumed in homes.

To be sure, the tough line taken by the mayor is met with some grumbling. The business district has a large demand for places to socialize and have a drink after a hard day. Proof of this is the number of eateries that reincarnated as “resto-bars” after lockdown rules were eased. This enables them to skirt the ten-person limit on any place people congregate. Too, the margins for drinks are always higher than those for food.

As we have seen worldwide, however, bars and pubs are notorious hubs for infection. There will be none of those in the City of Makati.

City Ordinance No. 2020-152 seeks to “prevent situations that could further endanger lives during a crisis.” It goes further than that, advising residents “it is best to avoid drinking altogether during a crisis.”

With this ordinance, expect the Makati police to be vigilant not only against the hole-in-the-wall bars that mushroomed the past few weeks, but also against smaller groups having spirited conversations along the sidewalks.

Strongly supported by her city council, Mayor Binay appears ready to accept whatever political costs might attend her tough restrictions. With infections rising, and with the National Capital Region barely avoiding a return to enhanced community quarantine, the local executives have been handed frontline roles in taming the pandemic.

Mayors of nearby municipalities where establishments designed to skirt the rules on the number of customers congregating may learn much from the policies enforced in Makati. Otherwise, we all march back to tighter quarantine regulations.

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