Still a work in progress

Still a work in progress

The nation commemorates the 1986 people power revolution today with the country’s largest broadcast network facing possible closure chiefly because it has incurred the ire of the top official of the land.

ABS-CBN’s president and CEO publicly apologized yesterday after it was revealed at a Senate inquiry that the Chief Executive resented the broadcast network’s “unfair reporting” and airing of an anti-Duterte political ad during the 2016 presidential campaign, and then failing to air his own ad to rebut the attack.

At the same inquiry, the National Telecommunications Commission explained that ownership issues raised against ABS-CBN are gray areas that have yet to be settled amid a rapidly evolving media and telecommunications landscape. The NTC explanation provides fodder to those who see the travails of ABS-CBN – which was seized by the Marcos dictatorship during martial law – as a serious threat to press freedom. It fuels concerns that 34 years after the people power revolt, the country is in danger of sliding back to authoritarian rule.

The administration has dismissed such fears as baseless fake news bordering on paranoia. President Duterte has often vowed that he does not intend to spend a moment longer in power than what is allowed by law, and that in fact he is prepared to leave office any time, even ahead of schedule.

There are Filipinos who have been disillusioned by people power, mainly because the revolt failed to bring about the expected dramatic reforms. Corruption has become endemic; human rights are violated with impunity; cronyism is galloping back. Democratic institutions remain fragile and the country remains controlled by a miniscule elite. The frustration with democracy has made Filipinos accept short cuts to law enforcement and embrace populism.

But the revolt is a work in progress, and building a strong democracy does not happen overnight. The significance of the seemingly impossible feat that was accomplished in those four days in February 1986 cannot be diminished by the disappointments. Thirty-four years after Filipinos restored democracy in a peaceful uprising, the saying holds true: the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. And building a strong, dynamic and free republic requires a lot of hard work.