In conventional warfare, American general Curtis Lemay demonstrated the strategic importance of air power in ending decisively the Pacific theater during World War II. The US dropped two atomic bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima in August 1945.

It was the first and only time nuclear devices were detonated to wipe out swathes of urban centers, bringing down Imperial Japan to its knees. It surrendered a month later, ending a global conflict that killed millions of people.

The United States displayed awesome air superiority during the Second World War, shortening the conflict and saving a lot of American soldiers’ lives but inflicting horrible damage on its enemies. An estimated 500,000 Japanese died during the war designed by General Lemay.

Half a century later, unmanned aerial vehicles, tomahawk missiles and hundreds of fighter planes preceded a brutal ground war in Iraq, toppling down Saddam Hussein in another display of air power. The swift attack shocked and awed the world.

In the Philippines, air power showed its destructive force when the military’s aging planes leveled Marawi City three years ago to defeat a small but violent pro-Islamic State militant group after five months of conflict. Only 160 soldiers died in the conflict as bombs and projectiles did much damage to the city.

But the strategic importance of air superiority is not only seen in hot wars or in low-intensity conflicts in many parts of the world. Air power is equally significant in any political campaign as rival politicians jostle against each other to be heard and seen on radio and television.

In a country like the Philippines, the broadcast media are a powerful tool in a political campaign because through them, a candidate’s message and platform are better explained to voters, widely and promptly.

Candidates, especially those running for national positions, will have better name recall when voters cast their ballots on election day if they have more air time in national and local broadcast networks.

Radio and television give politicians wider exposure, reaching remote and far-flung communities that would be difficult for them to personally visit given time and space constraints, as well as logistical and financial limitations.

Repeated 30-second spots in a day, in a week, and throughout the duration of the campaign can spell the difference. Thus, candidates spend considerable budget for TV and radio political ads to get ahead of the pack. Studies have shown that candidates who had more broadcast ads got higher awareness and name recall, boosting their chances of winning elections.

Like conventional warfare, superiority in the battle over airwaves is crucial in winning elections as candidates with better messaging get the support of the electorate. In 2016, Rodrigo Duterte’s message through radio and television ads resonated more to ordinary voters than his rivals, catapulting him to power.

Duterte’s meteoric rise to power could be partly attributed to the media, particularly to ABS-CBN, the country’s largest broadcast network, because of its wider audience reach. It was no surprise ABS-CBN cornered a big bulk of political ads during the 2016 campaign period because of its nationwide presence.

Politicians knew for a fact the power of broadcast media, particularly in the Philippines, where newspaper readership is low and television is the leading source of information and entertainment.

There will be elections in less than two years and politicians are already preparing this early to do battle, raising funds for campaigns and making strategic plans to keep their seats, win them back or defeat sitting opponents.

Drawing from the success of other politicians who had well-oiled machineries, and savvy communication and media plans, politicians seek to control the airwaves to build a good image and deny opponents a platform to campaign. In short, politicians want a friendlier broadcast media.

Four years ago, Duterte thought ABS-CBN was unfair to him when it failed to air his political ad at a crucial period, about a week before the elections. Instead, a political ad attacking him was aired.

The president did not forget that episode of the presidential campaign, an issue he kept on reminding ABS-CBN why he opposed its 25-year legislative franchise. His allies in the lower house of Congress readily acceded to him, sat on its renewal application for three years and rejected it at the 11th hour.

Two lower house panels held more than a dozen public hearings, raising several issues and looking for excuses to deny ABS-CBN its franchise. Lawmakers invited several resource persons to find fault, but in the end ignored them when they said the broadcast network did not violate any laws and, if there were some lapses, these were not grave offenses that should cost ABS-CBN a franchise.

During the hearing, it emerged that Duterte was not singled out by the TV network. Other candidates, including Vice President Leni Robredo’s political ad, did not air. There were also some Senate candidates who were in the same boat with the president and the vice president. But they never complained. Only Duterte did. He made sure the network paid for it.

There is something wrong in the way ABS-CBN accepted political ads. It was also slow in refunding politicians for ads that were never aired, but denying it a franchise is a very harsh punishment.

There were other excesses and lapses as pointed out by lawmakers, but ABS-CBN is not a perfect organization. Other broadcast networks and other media organizations commit similar lapses. Congress itself has its own shares of lapses. Some lawmakers were even criminally convicted in the courts of justice.

There are mechanisms to correct the practices, but lawmakers did not have the patience and rejected the franchise renewal without thinking of thousands of people who depended on the network for their livelihoods. The job losses come amid crisis due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

People need jobs but some lawmakers voted to take away those jobs and, at the same time, deny millions of Filipinos a more reliable and accurate source information as well as entertainment.

Some might argue that ABS-CBN continued to broadcast news on social media, but they forget to consider that more than 10 million of the population do not have electricity in their homes and the internet penetration is just a little over 50 percent nationwide.

Unless the government allows ABS-CBN to return to the radio frequencies it used to broadcast on free TV and radio, the full power to deliver news, information, and entertainment will not be maximized. It is a great disservice to the nation.

Perhaps, ABS-CBN was also a victim of its own strength. Some people wanted to clip its powers and probably wanted to control the media to change and dominate the narrative, suppress dissent and ensure their stay in office beyond the 2022 elections.

In wars, powerful states use air superiority to dictate the tempo of the conflict and in political contests, control of the airwaves will definitely help decide the outcome of elections.