MANILA - The former head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines raised concern Wednesday on potential poverty and unemployment that might stem from the government closure of broadcaster ABS-CBN Corp.
Regulators on Tuesday ordered ABS-CBN, which has 11,000 workers, to stop its broadcast operations while bills for its franchise renewal, some filed since 2016, continued to languish in Congress.
"Ilang libong kababayan ang mawawalan ng trabaho sa shutdown na ito? Malala na ang kahirapan at kawalan ng trabaho pang-araw-araw dahil sa pandemic, kailangan pa ba nating dagdagan ang kahirapan at kawalan ng hanapbuhay?" said former CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas.
(How many thousands of our fellow Filipinos will lose their jobs because of this shutdown? Poverty and unemployment is already grave because of the coronavirus pandemic. Must we add to this poverty and loss of livelihood?)
Free press is essential to democracy and the government should listen to criticism to improve, he said.
"Kung nais nating maghilom, makinig tayo sa isa’t isa. Huwag natin i-shutdown ang may ibang pananaw kaysa atin," Villegas said.
(If we want to heal, let's listen to each other. Let's not shut down opposing views.)
The archbishop also warned that the abuse of Congress' power to grant franchises is "dangerous" for the country.
"Kaya nga ang tanong ko po ay 'Ano ba talaga ang kasalanan ng ABS-CBN para ipasara sa ganitong panahon ng kagipitan?'" said the archbishop.
"Sa dami ng taong nakaalam ng balita at natulungan sa sandali ng pangangailangan at nag-ugnay sa atin upang magkatulungan sa sandali ng pangangailangan, ito ba ay makatuwirang gawin sa ABS CBN? Sa panahon ng krisis hindi ba maaaring dagdagan ang pagpapakatao?" he added.
(This is why I ask: what did ABS-CBN do wrong for it to be closed in this time of need? Given the number of people who received news and help, and how ABS-CBN bridged us in this moment of need, is this the reasonable thing to do to the network? In this crisis, can't we heighten our humanity?)
The prelate also asked ABS-CBN to examine some of its "lewd" shows.
ABS-CBN's 25-year license to operate expired Monday while bills for its renewal, some filed in 2016, languished in Congress.
Lawmakers earlier urged the National Telecommunications Commission to allow the media and internet giant to operate provisionally beyond May 4 and officials previously gave the assurance that ABS-CBN would get a provisional permit.
However, the NTC's cease-and-desist order on Tuesday cited the franchise expiration and said the outfit's operators would have to appeal for a return to the airwaves.
Church-ran Radio Veritas urged lawmakers to "expeditiously resolve the renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN, most especially in this time when our current health crisis entails the collective solidarity of every Filipino; and not divided nation posed by this unnecessary situation."
"Authentic Press Freedom is an important in the delivery of news, stories, insights, and spiritual reflection to our countrymen," the radio station that helped overthrow the Marcos regime in 1986 said in a statement.
ABS-CBN closure is a "disservice at this time of pandemic" given the network's role in information dissemination and connecting Filipino migrant workers to their loved ones back home, said Bishop Ruperto Santos of the Diocese of Balanga.
"There are many things we have closed down, but we should not close our hearts for charity; our minds on reason and our hands on healing," he said in a separate statement.
Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of the Diocese of San Carlos said he was also against the closure of the internet and media giant.
"Whatever legal issues there might be in this case, a remedy should be sought that will not further aggravate the plight of thousands of workers that will be added to the growing number of Filipino gravely affected by this pandemic," he said.
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 reaches 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.