Who wins in the ABS-CBN issue?
FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras (The Freeman) - February 25, 2020 - 12:00am

There are 36 days to go until the expiration of the ABS-CBN franchise and the Senate and Congress only have two weeks of session days before they go into recess. There is a quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Calida before the Supreme Court, and the Lower House has not calendared any hearing on the franchise, so unless a joint resolution to extend the franchise can be done within two weeks, ABS-CBN will have to shut down its broadcasting nationwide. The company will probably retain a thousand employees to secure and maintain the facilities, but most of the 11,000 employees will be jobless.

In the past weeks, there have been mixed signals from Malacañang about the president’s inclination on this issue after substantial support from the legal and business sector, civil society, media and press people, the opposition, foreign press, and the ABS-CBN employees and talents. There are also more than 90 congressmen who are supporting the renewal of the franchise, and majority of the Senators are similarly inclined. They are probably evaluating the risk and reward ratio if the situation goes one way or the other, or if this crucial decision options can still be avoided.

The 11,000 ABS-CBN employees with their dependents will directly affect 100,000 people. Then, there are the indirectly affected people who are employees of suppliers and users of the company’s products, which includes even the businesses around the facilities of the company. The restaurants, the turo-turos, the pedicab and taxi drivers, the talent scouts, caterers, the dressmakers, and all those who make a living dependent on ABS-CBN broadcasting nationwide will also be affected. These would be another 100,000 people whose incomes will be affected until they find other sources of income.

ABS-CBN annual gross revenue is about P50 billion, and even if we add another P50 billion as the revenues of the peripheral businesses affected, this would be something like ½ of 1% of the Philippines annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or the economy. Not really that much and quite affordable by the economy, but considering the negative impact of the COVID-19 on the Philippines which would be ½ to 1% of the GDP, and the diminishing foreign investments, this should be something to consider as it will affect employment and poverty levels. It will take time and capital to recover these lost revenues and productivity. Most affected will be the lower-level employees who will have difficulty looking for other sources of employment or income.

The political effects of this issue are not favorable to the government. Locally and internationally, the issue involves press freedom, the rule of law and democracy. The democratic countries in the world will counter or at the very least avoid dealing with our government politically and economically. The national opposition and freedom-loving Filipinos will have added ammunition to assail the autocratic bent of the government. Whichever way it goes, the government gets a bad reputation making it harder to govern.

Socially, or for the Philippine society in general, the issue is a win-win situation. If the franchise is renewed, it means that the government and the politicians are responsive to the people and more adherence to the law and justice will prevail and forthcoming. If the franchise is blocked and not renewed, more and more people will reassess their perceptions and views of the current government and act on them. And all governments rise and fall on the support of the people, for the people, and by the people.

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