Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute
Recent “strongman” moves by the Duterte administration have sparked multisectoral protests with possible repercussions on a nationwide scale. These moves range from threats to nullify government contracts with water concessionaires, the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), to “trashing” the franchise of media giant ABS-CBN.
The motivations are clearly vindictive, as repeatedly shown in President Duterte’s own tirades, broadcast live and unedited. His words are well applauded and deemed entertaining by his fanatic supporters, but one tragic outcome is how thousands of families can become collateral damage of his personal spite.
The Philippines’ eroded credibility in respecting government contracts and the worsening instability of the regulatory environment will weaken our momentum and competitiveness as a developing economy. The aggressive attack on the concessionaires Manila Water Co. and Maynilad Water Services Inc. is a harmful play on hydropolitics that deflects from the real problem: the looming shortage of raw water supply, the resolution of which is a responsibility of the government.
The fire-and-brimstone tirades deliberately preclude the rational and balanced thinking that should recognize the success of a public-private partnership in greatly improving the quality and reach of water distribution in Mega Manila.
The decision to terminate the strategically critical VFA with the United States, the most powerful military force in the world, will greatly sap our national defense capability at a time when the direction should be to strengthen existing alliances and expand to countries that respect the rule of law and reject expansionist aggression which can lead to military confrontation. The move has technically sabotaged the Philippines’ Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States, which has served as a strong deterrent against any foreign military threat.
The termination of the VFA is an impulsive and irrational act, and an affront to globally accepted norms in international diplomacy.
The legal maneuver by the Office of the Solicitor General in filing a quo warranto case against ABS-CBN has been widely criticized as a veiled tactic to stop the pending renewal of the network’s franchise. The administration’s allies in Congress are trying to block what has become cross-partisan support manifested by a number of bills pushing for the approval of a new franchise. The immediate condemnation of the moves against ABS-CBN is involving a wide spectrum of Philippine society, and the volume of public opposition is rising.
Speculations about possible vested interests are unavoidable. Who will stand to benefit if the President has his way with ABS-CBN?
Definitely, it will not be the 11,000 direct employees of the network. It will not be the family dependents, who, assuming an average of four dependents per employee, will number as many as 44,000. It will not be the indirect and allied industries that thrive in the ecosystem of ABS-CBN, which engages production companies and creative services nationwide.
It will not be the advertising industry which has its own ecosystem of dependents. Ad agencies, both big and small, will take a substantial hit because the dominant network generating the majority share of advertising revenues will disappear.
It will not be the big manufacturing and service companies that need to advertise their products to efficiently meet their targets. When sales revenues go down, after all, people start losing jobs.
The media industry and political analysts have quickly seen the parallelism with the Marcos regime, in which the same network was taken over under the force of martial law and many big companies owned by the regime’s political enemies were seized by chosen cronies. There was no press freedom in the Marcos era, nothing to watch or listen to but the dictatorship’s propaganda machine. Any criticism or opposition was quickly suppressed, often in deadly ways.
The martial law regime and Marcos’ crony empire eventually failed, with thousands of casualties and a shattered economy. We must stop it from happening again.
This article was originally published in Philippine Daily Inquirer.