The Day the Music Died



Last night, one of the biggest, if not the biggest media conglomerate, in the country closed down. It has other companies that will remain open but Channel 2 was gone.

For those who loved for decades the offerings of the said television channel, it was sad. For those who, day in and day out, spent their days including Sundays, watching actors, celebrities and talents sing and/or dance, it was the day the music died.

That night and, as foreseen, the days would read the news about this closure of a media network and with it was the mention always of Martial Law.

My generation has this memory of all forms of mass media – radio, newspaper and where it was present, television – were all shut down. Cinema and stage presentations would not be exempted.

Thank god for military drills my memory of that day remains unfettered. In history it is written that Martial Law was declared on September 21, 1972. But it was a Saturday, the 23rd of September that we in Ateneo de Naga learned first about such declaration. Talk of treachery. By the time we learned about the death of free speech, its exponents and practitioners were already in jail.

Even before reaching the old Jesuit school, we knew something was amiss. In our homes, the 7 o’clock Eveready Morning News was not on the air. Anchored by the inestimable Rufo Tuy, it was this man’s voice that followed us from our bed into the bathroom or toilet and up to the breakfast table, and out of the door of our home.

That morning of the 23rd of September, we woke up to static sounds. There was no voice at the other end. No music either. No ads. In other radio stations then music kept on playing. It was not vocal but rather long symphonies, or the so-called “instrumental” music.

Now this, this closure of Channel 2.

Last night, May 5, 2020, the network was gone. No goodbyes.

One day, the main agency called the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) announced that the network would remain open while its application remains pending. Then came another day and NTC, it seems, has reversed its position and issued a cease-and-desist order.

And now many are up in arms in protest.

For those with memories, even faintly, of Martial Law years, the closure of a mass media corporation brings back the dark years of censorship and control. Only magazines and newspapers operated with direct control of the government or by people who would heed the command of the dictatorship were in circulation.

This should interest the youth of the day: school journals were scrapped from campuses during Martial Law. For researchers therefore, the absence of reports on crimes and poverty during the regime of the Marcoses cannot be attributed to a wholesome peace and order but for the death of honest and candid documentation of the total social facts.

Ateneo de Naga, a bastion of progressive thoughts in the late 60s and early 70s, a condition unimaginable now in the present university, was one of the first on lock down. And yet, for the record, it was also the very first higher school of learning in the region allowed to print a school paper. The late Rudy F. Alano, mentor and friend and perhaps the most progressive academic in that school, was behind the project. With me as editor, we resurrected the Knight, a heralded literary magazine. Interestingly, we felt the education officials then saw how a literary magazine could be above the heads of the student populace and therefore, would not be that incendiary.

Even with a modicum of normalcy in campuses, it was clear the Dictatorship knew the power of freedom. It was the only power greater than the evil of repression.

This act therefore of NTC, seen as the extension of the present administration, is a reminder of those years and the reality that governments and authorities would always see in the freedom to express the ability, God-given and political, to seek and work for change.

Grossly mistaken therefore are the non-admirers of ABS-CBN when they attack those who attack the closure as a defense of a capital enterprise. True, the network has earned off the fantasies and desires of viewers who become fans. But it is precisely the contribution of Free TV that, in its provision of full access to all, it is able to offer to everyone all kinds of entertainment. The illusion that its programs creates offers allure and contentment that may, on ordinary days, not be available to the ordinary citizen. And yet, it is from the ephemera of wealth and exaggerated statuses in the TV tales and shows that many learn to critique the societies and the humans portrayed by the said medium.

Think of a society where an institution tells you what to do. However “good” the intent of that body, removal of choice brings us back to the boredom of the Garden, as Society allocates to itself the role of a god who plants a tree that bears the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. This is so Old Testament! Time to listen to the New Prophets.

The small picture of the closure is one that urges us to rejoice at the act because anyway the personnel of the Channel are arrogant and that its own newscasters have remained shy puppies when they needed to bark and bite. Let us look at the big picture of repression and control. Let not the lawyers obfuscate. The way out is legalistic – franchise and permit and all; the way in is moral and ethical. No one has the right to tell me who and what to listen to. In this age of fake news and real ugly trolls, a source of information that can be verified, vetted, and, more importantly, critiqued, is the next best thing to enlightenment and grace and action.