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The issue of transcendence

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There seems to be a commonality, spoken and not, between the case of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal and the recent termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States: the issue of transcendence.

In simple terms, the word implies something can and will go beyond. It’s like your overzealous mother-in-law. Go, figure.

In the case of the ABS-CBN franchise, Solicitor General Jose Calida and other likeminded lawyers argue that the network isn’t only guilty of violating its franchise per se but, in the process, caused something that, on the basis of the Constitution, is transcendental. (Take, for instance, voting. If you think you’re just exercising a right, wait until you wake up one day and discover everyone is supposed to speak Mandarin. Tsetse).

The implied accusation is that the network didn’t only cross the line (there!) legally, but breached the moral or ethical boundary. That explains why in one of his press briefings, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano admonished (a punishment in itself) that the station should go into soul-searching. The unbidden suggestion is that something is lost at the network. And it’s presumably not Gina Lopez, unless she was the “soul” in mind, because she was, indeed, a conscientious person.

The truth is, Cayetano has only been the predictable echo chamber of his implacable patron at Malacañang who has been endlessly griping about the “mortal sin” of the network since the early days in office: that he was gravely wronged by ABS-CBN by not airing his pre-paid campaign advertisements. Ever since, he has made it known that judgment day will come for the network. Woe unto you!

Both President Duterte and Speaker Cayetano are lawyers. As to whether they are good ones, that’s arguable. From the point of view of fairness and proportion, the transcendental argument seems to be misplaced. So far, only Duterte has complained about ABS-CBN’s failure. And he won the race, despite ABS-CBN’s alleged failure. No thanks. Cayetano may have had the same grievance against the station, as some new reports have indicated.

To add agony to the injury, Cayetano has announced that the hearing on the franchise renewal will be held in May. Meanwhile, the franchise will expire on March 31. Call it anything you want but there is a bit of mental torture involved in that blithe assurance. I don’t know if it qualifies as political sadism, if such a term does exist. On the other hand, given whose tail wags the dog, it’s simple math or psychology.

In this case, where a simple court case, not necessarily at the Supreme Court will do, something excessively punitive and potentially fatal is sought. But, of course, the issue is transcendental. You can argue against that until you are blue in the face and, well, for nada . Morality, Napoleon said, is always on the side of the heavy artillery.

Where the VFA termination is concerned, it’s not really about the US per se, you know. It’s about time the Philippines had its independent foreign policy, a political mantra that is neither here or there. Truth is, the termination was triggered by the cancellation of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa’s US visa. Obviously, the President,who has long expressed his displeasure with the United States on several occasions, was off ended by the US action.

To be fair, the Americans really had it coming from Day One of Duterte’s election. The American innocence is supposed to have ended a long time ago. This time, the President may justify the tit-for-tat on transcendence. An insult on one Filipino, and a senator at that, is a bald (no pun intended) insult to all Filipinos. It’s an egregious blunder, not a mere slight on one person’s dignity but an affront on the nation’s. You can’t argue against that or you’re pariah, even if China keeps creeping into your consciousness. Try as you might though, given the Duterte’s state of mind, even in the face of COVID-19, the termination isn’t really about foreign policy independence. Your guess is as good as mine.

The various reactions from both Americans and Filipinos in favor of or disagreeing with the termination, with the exception of twitter-happy Donald Trump, are grounded on the matter of transcendence. (Trump is fine). It’s the wrong direction, according to US Defense Secretary Mark Esper. And he probably meant it in more than just the literal sense, the 180 degree pivot from the west to the east. The US has been a long-time Philippine ally, even if the balance is usually tipped in the former’s side. We have mimicked or mimed her ideology, democracy and freedom of speech, among them, as well as much of their way of life. The lifesized shift in alliance could be a tectonic game changer for the nation.

That’s transcendental.

Pundits and leaders across the spectrum have argued that on the mere basis of cost/ benefit analysis, the Philippines is on the losing end because of this decision. The premise or pretext of an independent foreign policy for the VFA termination is seen as a right decision for the wrong reason and of bad timing. The consensus essentially evokes the transcendental sentiment.

In the final analysis, choices/decisions have their consequences, some of them unintended. Transcendental is an adjective, as in from bad to worse, or can be a noun, in a larger sense, as in from the frying pan into the fire. Ask Pilita Corrales, who fears a possible disaster vis-a-vis an ABS-CBN shutdown. It could be more than bending over backward. The spine might give. Even genuflection maybe counterproductive.

Time will tell.

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