Love in the time of viruses

Some say it is not a good time to celebrate love, even as I write this on Valentine’s Day. It’s not just the COVID-19 virus that is threatening our society and families – the viruses of hate and anger fueled by disinformation can be more harmful than a virus that we don’t understand. With so much mean spiritedness in our world and our islands, there seems not much to celebrate.

On the other hand, others would argue that the antidote to hatred is love and cruelty can only be overcome by kindness.

I agree. Take for instance racism. I would argue that this insidious attitude to our fellow human beings can only be defeated when many of us reject the opposite and embrace the other, the stranger, the one who is different from us.

In my moral philosophy class in Ateneo de Manila, a subject I am teaching again after thirty years and informed better by three decades of experience, I make my students read the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. This Lithuanian-French philosopher has written extensively about the face and teaches us its meaning: “The Other becomes my neighbour precisely through the way the face summons me, calls for me, begs for me, and in so doing recalls my responsibility, and calls me into question.”

If people only were open to experience the face of the other: we would not have so much killing around us; trolling as a sport would cease; and yes, we would not have this quo warranto petition against ABSCBN that threatens the livelihoods of thousands and could diminish our already fragile freedoms. It’s a petition infected with the virus of hate and anger – against the owners of ABSCBN, its employees, the people who rely on the network for news and entertainment, and for the Bill of Rights.

The grounds of the petition include allegations that ABS-CBN has allowed foreign investors to take part in the ownership of a Philippine mass media entity by issuing Philippine Deposit Receipts or PDRs which violates the Constitution and that it abused it’s franchise by launching and operating a pay-per-view-channel in ABS-CBN TV Plus, the KBO Channel, without prior approval or permit from the National Telecommunications Commission.

These  grounds are flimsy and trivialize quo warranto as a remedy. It fundamentally misunderstands the nature of media enterprises – its use of different platforms and how they are financed.

Quo warranto is not a proper remedy for the kind of issues being raised against ABSCBN by the Solicitor General as this remedy is intended to oust a person, public official, or corporation acting that is now qualified or without authority. That is not the case here.

In addition, the Supreme Court is not a trier of facts. Based on the grounds given, cases should be filed first against ABSCBN in the National Telecommunications Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.  

As my friend and fellow law professor Ted Te pointed out, the Solicitor  cannot go directly to the High Court as it runs counter to its  pronouncement in the land mark ruling of Gios-Samar vs DOTC in March 2019 where the Supreme Court said it would no longer tolerate cases that invoke “transcendental importance.” In particular, the Court in Gios-Samar said: “When a question before the Court involves determination of a factual issue indispensable to the resolution of the legal issue, the Court will refuse to resolve the question….Such question must first be brought before the proper trial courts or the Court of Appeals, both of which are specially equipped to try and resolve factual questions.”

Finally, freedom of the press is involved here. The government should be mindful of the binary distinction between content-based and content-neutral speech regulations. The latter is allowed while the former is frowned upon. The government cannot impose its principles and vision on the press but it can regulate media through franchises, permits, and fees as the latter are content-neutral.

The ABSCBN controversy is not just about a legislative franchise, as Cito Beltran said in his Agenda television show, but it is about freedom of the press and expression. I add it’s also about the right of ABSCBN employees to their livelihoods and the right of the people to information and yes to entertainment

There is a wind of madness sweeping the world and our islands. But it is just a wind and no matter how strong it is, that wind will blow away. We have to be rooted in principles – in love for our planet, for people, and the Philippines – to not be blown away with the wind. And to those who fail to do what is right during this time, be assured that you will be remembered and held accountable for that. These includes people in Congress, lawyers in the executive and judicial branches, trolls, etc.

In this time of viruses, one must still love, and believe: There is justice in the world and sooner rather than later the justice of the Lord will come upon all of us.

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