The global Covid-19 pandemic is now on its third murderous month. As of May 5, 2020, 3,664,513 confirmed cases and 252,758 deaths have been reported from 212 countries, territories and two international conveyances. From the Philippines alone, this means 9,845 confirmed cases and 623 deaths. No cure or vaccine has been found, and the lockdown imposed by governments to contain the pandemic has disrupted the rhythm of everyday life everywhere. Whole communities have been locked down, and families compelled to shelter in place. However,  they are not always able to bond  together: the elderly, being highly at risk, are told to keep a safe distance from the young, who are the richest source of their comfort and joy.

Isolation and boredom is now your principal foe,  if you are under quarantine. Your coffee-drinking and social dining days with friends are over. You can no longer get your hair or your nails done, nor visit your dentist  or  doctor for anything that may or may not have to do with Covid-19. You cannot step out of your home without the consent of your barangay which now controls your human rights. You may continue tele-working if you have not yet lost your job,  call your friends if your phone still works, read books if your age or diabetes has not yet affected your eyesight, play any game you still can  by your lonesome. But not much else besides.

If you believe in God and prayer, you can spend your self-isolation in day-long conversation with God about all your cares in the world. You will have no time to get bored. If you are a Catholic,  denied the public celebration of the Holy Mass and the sacraments, you still can follow the Mass online — Pope Francis at the Vatican, Bishop Robert Barron in Los Angeles, Archbishop Wilton Gregory in Washington, D.C., Cardinal Thomas Collins or any of his priests in Toronto, Cardinal Oswald Gracias in Bombay,  a local priest on Radio Veritas or Bishop Broderick Pabillo on Sundays at the Manila Cathedral. You can also click on any of Bishop Fulton Sheen’s illuminating lectures.

Unable to travel, you can enjoy a vicarious cruise on the Mediterranean or a luxurious train ride on the Orient Express, along the trans-Siberian railway, the Swiss Alps, the English channel, the length and breadth of India or Japan. You can visit the most magnificent palaces and cathedrals around the world, and join a historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Although the Scala in Milan and the concert halls in London, Paris, New York, Vienna and everywhere else have shut down, you can still catch an old performance of Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras, Bocelli, Callas, and even Mario Lanza online.

Amidst the desolation imposed by the pandemic, the media platforms provided by modern  information technology offer a service that grows in proportion to the magnitude of the crisis. But as only a few are connected to the internet, the vast majority have to rely on radio and television for their updates on the pandemic, other essential information, and routine entertainment. At this time when many of us wonder whether or not we will all be blown up, these popular media are among the few things that stand between sanity and madness, between hope and despair.

Perhaps I exaggerate, but you cannot miss the point. These platforms perform an essential service, and at this time, they deserve every possible support from government. In McLuhan’s words, the media have become the message.  Without them to cater to our barest needs, many of the poor, the jobless, the hungry, the lonely and the depressed would probably be climbing walls or driving themselves to their own death. But in lieu of support,  the government ordered ABS-CBN, the nation’s largest broadcasting network, to go off the air on May 5, 2020. This was the last time millions heard the news on TV Patrol or watched the network’s variety shows and coverage of boxing or basketball. The silence is maddening.

The act is heartless, insensitive and inhuman — not so much in relation to the network’s management, or its 11,000 or so workers who will all lose their jobs, as in relation to the vast millions of Filipinos who will be deprived of the network’s basic services. It defies our understanding of the common good, and what government of the people, by the people and for the people is all about.

The legal justification offered by the National Telecommunications Commission is that the network’s 25-year franchise expired the day before (on May 4). Indeed, this is a fact, but the more relevant fact is that President Duterte has made it clear he would not allow the ABS-CBN franchise to be renewed, and his allies and proxies in the House have sat on several bills authorizing its renewal before May 4. This is not the rule of law, properly understood, but the rule by law—-i.e., invoking the letter of the law to carry out an illegitimate political objective.

The pandemic is a force majeure that has prompted the government to extend certain favors to the public, like extending the April 15 deadline for the filing of income tax, and  granting financial assistance to those who had lost their jobs to the pandemic, which is not provided in the current budget as approved by Congress. Consistent with these, millions  of our TV viewers would have liked to see the law wear a human face, as far as ABS-CBN is concerned. But Duterte has decided to let the law wear the face of naked power instead. With God’s grace, we may well soon survive the Covid-19 crisis; but how long can we survive the excesses of this government?