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'Nasasakal na kami!': Bishop sees 'martial law specter' in ABS-CBN shutdown

Media outfits being told to 'kowtow to those in power' - Pabillo 

Writers and editors of ABS-CBN, the country's biggest broadcaster, work at the newsroom in their headquarters, following orders by telecoms regulator to cease its operations in Quezon City, May 6, 2020. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters 

MANILA - A government move to take ABS-CBN off air evokes "a specter of martial law", a leader of the Catholic Church in Manila said Thursday.

The National Telecommunications Commission's order for the Philippine's largest media outfit to stop broadcasting on Tuesday due to its stalled franchise renewal "does not have the good of the Filipinos at heart," said Bishop Broderick Pabillo, the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila. 

"It sends the chilling message that news and information outlets should kowtow to those in power or else they will be brought down, just as ABS-CBN," he said in a statement.

"We are not defending ABS-CBN. We are defending press freedom. We are defending freedom because the grip of power is getting tighter around us. Nasasakal na kami! The specter of Martial Law is coming up!" he added. 

The House of Representatives has refused to tackle several bills, some filed since 2016, which sought to renew ABS-CBN's franchise that expired Monday. 

At the urging of lawmakers,the NTC previously gave the assurance that ABS-CBN would be allowed to operate until 2022 while its franchise bills languished in Congress. However, the NTC's cease-and-desist order on Tuesday cited the license expiration and said the network would have to appeal for a return to the airwaves. 

NTC's move is "very unbecoming at best and traitorous to the people at worst" given how the network kept Filipinos updated on the coronavirus pandemic and entertained millions who were under lockdown, said Pabillo. 

"Will NTC add 11,000 workers to the swelling unemployment that the country is now experiencing?" he asked. 

Pabillo also faulted lawmakers for "not acting fast enough on the application for the renewal of its franchise."

"They have been reminded of this matter for a long time but they dilly-dally, using its power to give a franchise as a bait to tame the network," he said. 

ABS-CBN's closure, he said, was "politically motivated, no matter what justification is forwarded by the government." 

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly threatened to shut down the network after it ran a campaign ad placed by his critic, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, in the 2016 presidential election. Last December 2019, he told ABS-CBN's owners to just sell the company.

Duterte is "completely neutral" on ABS-CBN's franchise renewal, his spokesman Harry Roque said Wednesday as he noted that the President in February accepted the network's apology.

Aside from franchise delays, ABS-CBN is facing a quo warranto challenge lodged before the Supreme Court by Solicitor General Jose Calida. The government's lead lawyer is seeking to nullify ABS-CBN's franchise due to alleged illegal pay-per-view offerings and foreign ownership.

The network, which reached millions of Filipinos through its television, radio and online platforms, said it did not violate the law in its 65 years of service.
news.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.