On the ABS-CBN shutdown

As the Philippine Commission on Human Rights celebrated its anniversary, the oldest Philippine television network, the ABS-CBN, was ordered to shutdown by the government. The celebration turned to sorrow because many human rights workers saw it as an affront to press freedom. The “laziness” of the Senate and the House of Representatives to renew the network’s franchise, with the assumption that they are not dictated by Malacanang, cannot be used as an excuse to close the ABS-CBN.

Similarly, development workers who don’t like to work with, but have opened their arms to, the government because of the fight against Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) have started to air their disgust because of the shutdown. A significant number of them circulated messages asking for apology for inviting other like-minded workers to join hands with the government at least in this time of health crisis.

In a number of neighborhoods, particularly in the provinces, people also cried with the announcement of the closure of the network. In a way, ABS-CBN had been a part of their lives because it filled-up the void created by the government’s media — providing news and entertainment in far-flung areas.

We agree that the network may have misgivings. We agree that the government has a power to open or close establishments and industries; grant, renew and cancel franchises of public utilities. But the question is: Why order the shutdown after the President lambasted the network for not airing his political ads, and imement the closure in times of crisis when information is necessary, and when unity is wanting?

We do not question the wisdom of the President. We do not question the rules. But, we are in a time of crisis and, again, we need more hands to fight the Coronavirus and its socio-economic effects. Apart from the 11,000 employees who should not be an additional burden to the government, we need help in at least sharing important news and information as well as entertainment to keep the people in their homes in compliance with the government’s guidelines on lockdown. If the President can sit on, shelve, defer, act or expedite the investigation of corrupt politicians; if he can put to table the opening of non-essential industries like the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs) or dismiss as mandatory the 3% Philhealth contribution of the overseas Filipino workers, what is extending for at least after the crisis the operation of ABS-CBN?

We agree that chaos will occur if the rules are not followed. But isn’t it that we made exceptions because it is a time of crisis? The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, for example, was passed because of its very purpose – to heal as one. But should we sacrifice our mouths and ears, and set aside our sanity because of the lockdown just for the sake of protecting our lungs? Can’t we have everything intact and instead sacrifice some technicalities assuming that the decision was devoid of political interests and assuming that it is really illegal for the station to operate sans franchise?

The local government units (LGUs) are doing their best to convince local electricity and water distribution utilities to defer the payments of their constituents. News, information and entertainment are also among the basic neccessities of the people especially in these trying times. The only difference is that these are beyond the purview of these LGUs. But if the local governments are that sensitive, why is the national government that different?

Context, Mr. President. Context.

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