Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Written for The Diplomat

When the Philippine government’s solicitor general filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to forfeit the franchise of ABS-CBN, the country’s leading broadcaster, the development attracted international headlines. As it should: While Duterte’s efforts to undermine press freedom are longstanding, this is the most serious threat to press freedom since he took up the presidency in 2016.

If the Duterte government succeeds in closing down ABS-CBN, there are fears that it could set a dangerous precedent that can be applied against other critical media networks. Duterte could also threaten smaller media networks to toe the line or else suffer the same fate as the seemingly invincible TV giant.

Duterte’s supporters are trying to link the ABS-CBN case with the president’s earlier statement denouncing the greed of oligarchs. ABS-CBN is owned by a family with extensive business holdings. While Lopez family members do not directly engage in electoral politics, many of their businesses depend on government contracts.

But that should not detract from the fact that the attempt to intimidate or silence ABS-CBN is clearly a partisan ploy to bully the press into submission. There may be valid issues that ABS-CBN needs to address, like its dispute with contractual workers, but it cannot be denied that the government is exploiting the franchise expiration for political reasons.

Most of all, Duterte should not forget that the role of the media is intertwined with the Philippines’ history of popular protest, and that an effort to undermine it may dent his popularity and eventually even lead to his demise. For instance, the massive protests against the very popular former President Joseph Estrada were triggered by his order to remove government ads to a major newspaper in 1999, with the order decried as an attack on the press and civil liberties. History may not repeat itself exactly this time under Duterte, but the president and his administration must understand that they are playing with fire.

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The Fall of the Estradas in the Philippines

Written for The Diplomat

The topline takeaway from the Philippine midterm elections in May was that the coalition endorsed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte dominated the Senate race and the local elections. But there were also allies of the president who lost badly in the polls. Perhaps the most prominent political family that surprisingly failed to get an elected position this year is the Estradas of Manila and San Juan. Their electoral defeat was a notable development within the legacy of Philippine dynastic politics.

Most prominently, Manila Mayor and former President Joseph Estrada lost in his re-election bid despite wide name recognition and demonstrated staying power in Philippine politics. In addition, his two sons were unable to clinch their own Senate seats. Estrada’s granddaughter was defeated in San Juan, which marked the first time that the Estrada clan has lost control of the city since 1967.

At this juncture, the Estrada family needs to reflect on its legacy in power. Mayor Estrada promised to revive the glory of Manila in 2013 but he didn’t abandon his traditional concept of governance, which disappointed many of his constituents. His two sons ran for senate seats at the same time, which divided their base and prevented either from getting enough votes. They allowed an inexperienced member of their family to face an old rival in San Juan, which cost them their longtime political base.

Whether or not Duterte’s camp engaged in a power play to slay the mass appeal of the Estradas, the consequence of the electoral loss of the latter is the boosting of the influence and dominance of the Dutertes in local and national politics. In just three years, the Davao-based Dutertes have quickly gained a foothold in the erstwhile fiefdoms of well-entrenched Manila dynasties.

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