Rome is burning

By Reyshimar Arguelles


The image of Nero playing the lyre as Rome burns in the background may not at all be historically accurate or real, but it does describe how people with questionable political preferences feel towards complex issues. This shouldn’t shock us since we are living in a bizarre epoch where people are empowered to say anything they want without fear of consequence.

That there are some who celebrate disgusting displays of power-mongering perfectly captures the insanity of our times. By modern standards, any issue becomes a contest over who gets to own who. We don’t take political stances based on rational decisions anymore. So long as we humiliate the other side, our biases are valid.

Of course, who wouldn’t want to see their enemies wallow in misery? Those who were against the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise are having a field day after 70 members of a congressional technical working group thumbed down the network giant’s application.

After weeks of grueling grand-standing and needless pandering, the administration’s allies in the House of Representatives were able to act on the President’s continuous threats to close down ABS-CBN which, to the mind of any avid supporter of this government, has been accused of biased reporting on top of other outrageous charges that were eventually debunked by the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Department of Labor and Employment.

But whether we flow with it or not, derailing ABS-CBN appears to be the only thing that matters to the administration’s fanbase. No doubt, they have very clear reasons to think that way.

First off, we have the idea that ABS-CBN, as a media outfit, functions as though it were the Liberal Party’s loudspeaker. It earned Malacañang’s ire after it allegedly failed to air paid ads for then-candidate Duterte’s presidential campaign. The issue was since cleared up across different forums, but it didn’t stop administration supporters from peddling the network’s supposed animosity against the President.

But what many try to ignore is the fact that ABS-CBN also accommodated pro-Duterte messaging. Remember that episode of Maalala mo Kaya which featured the life of Bong Go? Entitled Steak, the episode had the approval of the President’s long-time, praising its accuracy. And how about the episodes of Gandang Gabi Vice that invited candidate Duterte and former Philippine National Police Chief Bato dela Rosa? Can we hold these up against ABS-CBN’s supposed political biases?

The idea that the network is cherry-picking information doesn’t begin to describe how the entire media industry works in this country. If anything, this weird witch hunt against ABS-CBN is a clear act of singling out a media entity for practices that other media entities seem to uphold.

It’s easy to say that this whole franchise issue is not a matter of press freedom, but accepting the narrative that a certain media outfit is hell-bent on taking down the government only intensifies people’s assumptions about this government’s views on free speech. As much as we want to deny any of the underlying issues, we shouldn’t overlook the administration’s prevailing motives.

With ABS-CBN having fought an obstinate system from the start, we were all preparing for a pre-determined outcome. Everything that transpired throughout the hearings that humiliated ABS-CBN’s execs and placed the network’s workforce on a precarious position was all about proving a point: It’s either you go with the flow or let the current determine where your carcass ends up.

There is not much else we can draw from this drama, but at least it gave administration supporters something to rub against those who continue to criticize the government. For them, it’s right for the ABS-CBN leadership to suffer. And while they empathize with the network’s employees for having worked for the wrong company, these amoral cheerleaders are actually fiddling as reason and civility burns in the background.