Is it true?
I heard that, too.
The rumblings in my chat groups started early in the day. Someone was going to make a move on ABS-CBN, they said. What do your sources say, they asked. I scanned my messages on the way to the field, troubled, but only partly.
You see, we’ve been hearing these threats—different variations of it—since 2016. Often, the most credible-sounding threats turn out to be duds. But sometimes it’s the most unthinkable ones that turn out to be true. We’ve since learned to keep panic at bay and wait calmly for the threat to take shape before letting it get to us.
It has been an incredible distraction from the journalism we do, and admittedly makes us all just a little more tired at the end of the day. Is this story going to get me in trouble with government? Will my story cause further trouble for the network? Should we care if it does? Is this worth the risk?
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I decided to put these thoughts on hold and focus on the story at hand. I placed my phone back in my pocket and proceeded to Tondo.
The poorest parts of Tondo were placed on “hard lockdown” for two days in an attempt to cut the chain of COVID-19 infection in the community. A noble intention, that’s for sure. But it is important to ask the communities what they feel about it, too.
Through gaps in their plywood walls, faces jutting out of their makeshift windows, people of Happyland and Smokey Mountain told us how torturous it is to “stay at home”—when home to them is less like a house and more like a box cramped with too many other people, with no escape from the heat of corrugated steel in the summer sun, with no water to drink much less to bathe with.
“Para po kaming iniihaw dito,” one man said.
While 284 of them were arrested for violating the lockdown, the rest of the half a million residents stayed indoors. They understand the need to stay safe, they said. But we who live in bigger houses need to understand, too, that this is not as easy for them as it is for us.
When I went back to Tondo, the lockdown had lapsed and people were enjoying their partially-restored freedom. Many people were back on the streets—rushing to buy food, crowding around SAP distributions, selling their wares, generally hanging out where a breeze could touch their faces. It is both completely understandable, and terrifying to watch. One hundred nine (109) people tested positive in rapid antibody testing done during the hard lockdown. They are able to breathe. But they are also passing the virus onto each other again.
That was my story that day. That was the only story I thought I had to tell.
In the late afternoon as my team parked under a tree and sat down to lunch, I check my phone again.
They did it.
NTC issued a cease and desist order.
Now?? In a pandemic??
Can they do this?
They just did.
At that point, I did what all journalists do. I multitasked.
I turned on the radio so I could listen to colleagues talk about it on air, while writing my script about the situation in Tondo. My team discussed where the live point should be, joking uncomfortably that we should make this report good because it might be our last.
But as it turned out, we didn’t even air at all.
The network decided that we would agree to sign off.
The final newscast was to say goodbye.
My team packed up hastily and rushed back to the ABS-CBN compound. We didn’t know what was going to happen next. All we knew was that we had to be there, with our colleagues, when the curtain closed.
The newsroom seemed to look the same at first glance. Producers were still on their computers typing away. Someone was chewing someone’s head off over the phone for some mistake. Editors were still cutting videos, just in case, or just because.
It looked the same, but didn’t feel the same. That palpable, electric energy that courses through these people during a newscast—that mix of wanting to get things done well and on time, and praying you don’t mess up—was just gone. Their eyes, the only parts of them I could see over their face masks, seemed a little more distant than usual as they watched TV Patrol’s final stories being told.
I stayed at the back to take in the scene. But when I looked to my right, I saw Mnemo, one of our kindest segment producers, leaning quietly against a pillar, tears streaming down her pink cloth mask.
“Kaya natin ito,” was all I could muster. I couldn’t even say we would be okay.
On that night, the newsroom felt more like a hospital waiting room. My officemates looked like a family huddled together, while elsewhere, a loved one was being revived. People were exchanging weak whispers of hope, while the hope inside us all was dwindling.
I wander into my boss’ office to find all of them there. Carlo Katigbak, our president and CEO, and Mark Lopez our chairman, were standing next to each other, watching the newscast. Cory Vidanes, our COO for Broadcast, was on the phone. Our News boss and mother dragon, Ging Reyes, was darting back and forth between her room and the newsroom, tweaking things in the lineup as they go.
“Oh, hi, Chiara,” said Carlo, grinning.
“Hey there, Chiara,” Mark chimed in.
I waved back, amazed at how calm and gracious they still were. Is it a gift, I wonder, to be able remain smiling and upright at the edge of a cliff?
Or are they doing this for us?
Whatever the case, it was most reassuring. The ship was going down, but we were going down together, sailors and captains and all.
A lot of reporters were in the newsroom, too—a rare occurrence, since we run on different beats and therefore different schedules: Jeff Canoy, my friend and documentary mate; Raphael Bosano, who’s been covering COVID-19 from day one; Mike Navallo, who works the justice beat; Jorge Cariño, one of our most masterful storytellers.
Kuya Kim was there, too, wearing a safari hat and garb. Zen Hernandez, who sat glued to the monitor. Maan Macapagal, who has worked the police beat for years. Gretchen Fullido, dressed to present showbiz stories that would no longer air. And Tony Velasquez, our anchor resident stand-up comic (he was not laughing that night).
“Hugs, friend,” said Jeff, offering me his elbow.
I bumped his elbow with mine, and clutched his arm. Someone should think of a different substitute hug. That elbow thing, it just doesn’t cut it.
And then it began. After decades of being on air, ABS-CBN is saying goodbye.
The bosses were introduced first.
Carlo appeared on screen, to talk to the millions of Filipino audiences that the network has informed and entertained through the decades.
“Ako po ay humaharap sa inyo sa ngalan ng aming ABS-CBN family.”
The man who was just smiling in the other room was now appealing to our countrymen to help save the network, and allow us to continue serving.
“Ang makapaglingkod sa inyo ang aming misyon, at ang aming kaligayahan. Ngayon po, dumating ang araw na kami naman ang dumudulog at nananawagan sa inyo.”
He goes on to recount how ABS-CBN broke no laws, and lacked no requirements, and asked anyone whose lives have been touched by the network to speak out.
Mark appeared next, speaking of this great pain to ABS-CBN’s workers, and the greater disservice to those who need information at the time of the pandemic.
“Masakit sa aming ipinasasara kami. Pero masakit din ito para sa milyun-milyong nating kababayang naniniwala na ang aming serbisyo ay mahalaga sa kanila.”
I look around at my colleagues. Everyone was somber. But nearly everyone had their phones out, too, documenting everything from where they stood.
Tsss. Journalists, I thought with tenderness.
And then, the anchors came out to speak. These are the men and women Filipino audiences watch nearly every single night, introducing our stories to the people.
For the last time, Ted Failon reads out his signature line. He takes a deep breath.
“Mga kapamilya, iyan po ang mga balitang nakalap sa aming mas malawak na pagpa-patrol.”
What he said next took the wind out of me. It was the sound of the guillotine falling. The long-awaited threat turned real. Ted reads on, eyes red under his glasses.
“Ihihinto po ng ABS-CBN, DZMM, MOR, at lahat po ng TV at radio stations nito sa buong Pilipinas ang pag-broadcast pagkatapos po ng aming programa. Kailangan lang po ng istasyon ng sapat na panahon upang maisaayos po ang pag-shutdown sa aming mga kagamitan, at maabisuhan din po ang aming mga tagapanood, at mga tagapakinig.”
Anchor Bernadette Sembrano reads out the remaining platforms where some ABS-CBN content could still be found. But I, for one, could no longer hear it. I wept quietly, among the crowd of journalists that has taught me and shaped me for more than a decade.
The last to speak was Noli de Castro, known to many as Kabayan, and the face of TV Patrol.
In his famous booming intonation, it was Kabayan who read out the final goodbye.
“Bayan, mga kapamilya. Ilang dekada rin tayong nagkasama,” he said. “Utang na loob namin sa inyo na tinanggap ninyo kami sa inyong mga tahanan gabi-gabi.” At this point, his voice started cracking. But Kabayan read on as he has read for decades.
“Isa pong karangalan na maging tagapaglahad ng inyong mga kwento, at tagabantay sa mga nasa kapangyarihan. Karangalan po namin na maglingkod sa inyo, Kabayan.”
The silence in the newsroom was deafening.
But then the message shifts, from sorrow to defiance.
“Hindi man ni-renew ang aming prangkisa, at pinatitigil ang aming broadcast, nangangako kami sa inyo, hindi kami mananahimik sa pag-atakeng ito sa aming demokrasya at sa malayang pamamahayag.”
If this was a message to us, we heard it. I stood up a little straighter.
“Mga Kapamilya kami. Tayo ang ABS-CBN. In the service of the Filipino, saan man silang naroroon sa mundo.”
A final wide shot showing all three anchors. Bernadette bows her head. A weak round of applause, followed by silence. The newsroom, for the first time in decades, had nothing left to say.
Then the opening bars of the Philippine national anthem sounded. People looked back up at the screen.
I didn’t realize that I was slumped, until I decided to stand at attention. I placed my hand on top of my heart.
So did Zen.
And Kuya Kim.
So did all the staff around me. And we sang together.
“Lupang Hinirang” woke us up, reminding us why we even do this. Why we are even here, away from our families, in the midst of a pandemic. Why this hurts. And why it’s good that it hurts.
Ang mamatay nang dahil sa’yo.
This time, the applause was louder.
Click on the arrrows for slideshow
Katigbak at the ABS-CBN newsroom.
Watching Failon on the newsroom monitor.
“Ipadama, isaad at ipadinig ang ating nararamdaman,” Katigbak said as he addressed the nation last night, encouraging the public to let their sentiments on the closure be heard.
ABS-CBN Chairman Mark Lopez.
Reporter Maan Macapagal (center) among her colleagues in the newsroom.
Newsroom staffer Mikey Flores.
Staffers remain in silence after the sign off.
Newsroom staffer Omar Bañez.
Newsroom staffer Peachy Suaybaguio.
Newsroom staffer Richie Velarde.
Some of the writers, editors, and staff of ABS-CBN News whose future has become uncertain because of the network‘s shutdown.
The final goodbye, as ABS-CBN signs off after decades of broadcast.
What Filipinos will see now each time they will try to tune in to ABS-CBN.
I and my colleagues watched as ABS-CBN flashed all the channels and frequencies we have been using to broadcast all over the country. We were struck by just how many they were, and I pictured all the people out there whom I have never met, but were all working the same way, and are now hurting the same way. As name after name was called, the ABS-CBN family grew bigger and bigger in my head. So did the tragedy of this all. So did the need to fight.
The last words, the network’s last breath, was met with thunderous applause.
This is ABS-CBN Corporation Channel 2, In the Service of the Filipino.
Now signing off.
I applauded the network, for all its good work. I turned around and applauded the staff for putting their hearts and souls into this. I applauded some more to force my wounded heart awake.
Then a voice from the end of the room.
It was Carlo, who was applauding us.
How did the night end? For a while, we were glued to where we stood. The TV had turned black, but we were looking at it like we could will it back to life. Usually at the end of each day, people would be rushing home to rest up for a new fight. But people stayed, disoriented. Suddenly, there was nothing left to do.
Then I get a text from my minder, Miranda De Quiros.
“Manila ka pa rin bukas.”
And so, we work. With whatever we are given. Until we can.