By JANNELA PALADIN and JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — A year since lawmakers killed the franchise of the biggest television network in the country, a group of Filipino journalists said the Duterte administration cannot wash its hands over what is deemed as an assault on free press and abuse of power.
“Undoubtedly, the killing of the franchise is an order from Malacañang, and blindly undertaken by his cohorts without credible justification and reason,” the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said in a statement.
On July 10, NUJP led a protest caravan from the House of Representatives to ABS-CBN to mark the first year since its shutdown that came in the heels of a pandemic, increased attacks against the press, and looming attempts of the Duterte administration to perpetuate itself beyond the 2022 elections.
Since the network shutdown, at least 5,000 media workers have been retrenched and millions of viewers have been deprived of vetted and verified information through its news and current affairs.
The NUJP said the ABS-CBN franchise is bound to be an election issue in the coming 2022 polls.
“While it is true that ABS-CBN is not the only news organization in the Philippines, the loss of one is a loss to us all. An attack on the biggest opens the door for attacks on the smallest and on individual journalists who may not even have a newsroom,” the NUJP said.
Does no one want to take the blame?
The network went through the proverbial eye of the needle during the committee hearing that decided on its shutdown
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, also a former journalist, said during the protest action that lawmakers spent more than 100 hours deliberating the franchise application as it weaponized the process to kill ABSCBN’s franchise.
The NUJP said 13 hearings were spent looking into “issues raised against the network were either untrue or were already being addressed.”
Among these was what purportedly made them earn the ire of President Duterte, when they failed to air his campaign ads. Other lawmakers also took the opportunity to bring up unflattering coverage of themselves, the group added.
“Despite the very open threats made against the network — the president said in 2019 that he would ‘see to it that you’re out’ — it seems few want to take credit for it now,” said NUJP.
Malacañang has earlier said the decision to put the network off air was a move done by the House alone. On the other hand, the NUJP noted that the House has yet to release the official list of voting that day.
On the eve of the first year commemoration of the network shutdown, the NUJP’s chapter in ABS-CBN also held an online forum titled “Franchise Denied, Press Forward,” which, among others, highlighted the plight of their displaced workers.
Jon Villanueva, president of the ABS-CBN Rank and File Union, said their retrenched colleagues have been trying to survive since they lost their jobs a year ago.
“Most of them still cannot find jobs. Their lives have changed. They are just trying to survive now, they will take whatever work available,” said Villanueva during the forum.
Christian Lloyd Magsoy of Defend Jobs Philippines said the network shutdown also resulted in retrenchments among contractors of ABS-CBN, those in advertising, and even small businesses near the network’s compound.
ABS-CBN News Chief Ging Reyes said they managed to stay focused despite “an incredible year of loss and heartbreaks.”
“I want to make sure they don’t lose focus, that we can work and let emotions and difficulties stop us,” Reyes said.
With the network’s shutdown, the Philippines slid two places on the Reporters without Borders World Press Freedom Index as it created a climate of fear in the media.
The NUJP noted that they have seen an increased threat against journalists in the past year, with 20 libel cases filed, 22 cases of intimidation, and four killings documented.
Apart from ABS-CBN’s network shutdown, the attacks on other media outfits such as Philippine Daily Inquirer, Rappler, and the alternative media “have shown us that we cannot treat these as individual and isolated cases,” the NUJP said.
During the online forum, Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist John Nery pointed out that the shutdown did not only result in a chilling effect but also a “freezing effect.”
“Many feared that if they can do this to ABS-CBN, what more to others?” Nery said.
Still, the fight goes on for the network.
During the online forum, Michael Angelo Dimaayo, a student from Trinity University of Asia, said it is important to voice out their demands for a free press as part of the future of this industry.