(Left to right) ABS-CBN general counsel Mario Bautista, ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak, ABS-CBNN COO Cory Vidanes, ABS-CBN Human Resources head Mario Carlo Nepomuceno and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra attend the Senate inwuiry into the network's franchise renewal.
The STAR/Mong Pintolo
Commentary: Quo warranto, strategic gem of Duterte admin
Ren de los Santos (Philstar.com) - March 7, 2020 - 3:17pm

The saga continues on the most domestically talked about issue. It is not about the dread brought by the coronavirus that if not controlled can bring chaos to world order. Nor is it about the other earth-shattering catastrophes plaguing the world from the accelerating and irreversible effects of global warming or an impending world war. 

For the Filipinos, it was all about the ongoing legal scuttle of the government against one of the media pillars of the nation, ABS-CBN. 

Many have questioned why the current administration’s Solicitor General Jose Calida has brought up an issue seemingly out of nowhere. If it were to be remembered, the president from his first year of office has had on-and-off gripes against ABS-CBN by floating the idea that its franchise should no longer be renewed. 

As the saying goes, it was in February when finally, the chickens came to roost, with Solicitor General Calida volleying the initial shots against ABS-CBN that later captured the attention of millions of Filipinos. 

With gusto and determination, Calida showed his tenacity to pursue ABS-CBN by citing various grounds to invalidate the network’s franchise renewal by throwing everything it can against the network from allegedly being owned by foreign entities, operating without permission and permit from the National Telecommunications Commission to the buying and selling of its shares which has complicated its ownership. 

On the contrary, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Securities and Exchange Commission both have reiterated that there were no violations committed by the network, except for the violation according to the National Telecommunications Commission regarding the pay-per-view services that was pursued by the network where violators will be fined P200 only. 

What was clear, however, during the hearing was the pettiness that the president’s feelings were hurt. Egos and pettiness aside, an oxymoronic statement followed by claiming that these actions were not due to the president’s vindictive nature. However, it won’t take a rocket scientist to see what is obvious. 

What instead maybe is not seen by many is how the quo warranto is a strategic gem and carefully calculated move from the administration. Taking from the pages of legendary military strategist Sun Tzu’s the Art of War, the case against ABS-CBN is not what it seems to be. 

Timing

The case against ABS-CBN couldn’t have come in a better time for the administration. 

Despite showing solid numbers across the board after a resurgence in the president’s trust ratings, it cannot be overlooked that there were headwinds brewing that could impact public perception from the yet unresolved West Philippine Sea issue, slowdown in the government’s much-vaunted “Build, Build, Build” projects, illegal POGO companies, and the government’s handling of the coronavirus among many; the ABS-CBN case overshadowed the other issues that protects the government from public scrutiny. 

Deflection

Creating another foe has deflected the issue away from more pressing and important concerns.

By attacking one of the nation's media pillars and using the tired old formula of positioning Duterte’s politics as anti-oligarch and nationalistic, many have fallen to the same populist rhetoric while on the other hand, known Duterte allies have secured support and other privileges from the government. 

An old magician’s trick, deflection plays on the victim’s perception by the masterful manipulation of senses that masks reality and creates an illusion. A sleight of hand has been played in this particular case and the ABS-CBN issue just another cog in the bigger picture. 

Consolidation

By recapturing the imagination of the public, populists often have galvanized support by using the timing and deflection to prolong their political reign. 

The action to conduct this can by no means be re-enacted by an amateur but only an experienced operator can imagine and perfectly executed. This is because both timing and deflection can only bring the desired result if done in the right conditions, and if done masterfully can bring further consolidation of public opinion and support. 

This is why known allies of the government have stepped into the stage to play specific roles to further their political clout. Some play has paled the role of spectators, while the more astute have chosen to be careful and objective arbiters and the bold seized the moment by playing the role of white knights to save the day. 

What is certain is that the quo warranto is just a blip in the bigger game of politics. Nothing but another bone for the public to chew on; nothing but a simple distraction. The case is a perfect example of crafty politics; it was unanticipated, calculated, and disturbing abuse of power.

Ren de los Santos is a fellow of think tank Stratbase ADR Institute.

ABS-CBN FRANCHISE QUO WARRANTO PETITION
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