MANILA (UPDATE) - Philippine universities on Wednesday stood with ABS-CBN after it was forced to go off air in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic upon the orders of the National Telecommunications Commission due to an expired franchise.
The Ateneo de Manila University said the decision of the telecoms body "deprives the Filipino people of a vital source of information, entertainment and public service."
"Filipinos need ABS-CBN now, especially now during these urgent times of the pandemic, when information provided by our country's broadcast journalists spells the difference between life and death for our citizens, most of whom still get their news from television and radio," ADMU president Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin said in a statement.
The Ateneo said the network's forced shutdown shows "shades of martial law" under late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, "when the airwaves went silent as the dictatorship sought to quell the free exchange of news, information and commentary."
"ABS-CBN's closure extinguishes the brightest light in our information firmament and leaves the smaller ones in darkness and peril," it said.
"We urge our lawmakers to act post-haste to approve the ABS-CBN franchise and restore its broadcast."
The University of Santo Tomas (UST) said the NTC's order to stop ABS-CBN from broadcasting was "a clear disservice to the Filipino people in this time of the pandemic, when information, delivered fast and wide, is key to saving lives."
UST noted the company's public service projects, which it said have "significantly contributed to the improvement of the lives of many Filipinos."
Journalism professors from UST, meanwhile, said the network's closure was President Rodrigo Duterte's "Pearl Harbor attack" in his war on the free press.
Shutting down the press is the work of dictators, the group said, as it urged the public to "speak out and resist all attacks on the media, and hold the malevolent forces behind this treachery to account."
"Now that ABS-CBN is out of the airwaves, and for the second time since martial law, there is no more denying that the Duterte regime will stop at nothing — even amid a national emergency and a crippling lockdown — to crush dissent and stifle a free and independent media," the group said.
"The process of granting broadcast franchises should be depoliticized and delegated to an independent regulatory agency, as it touches upon the constitutionally guaranteed exercise of free press and free expression."
Far Eastern University's Department of Communication said it believes that the NTC's move to shut down ABS-CBN curtails freedom of the press and threatens the livelihood of its 11,000 workers.
"In the face of a public health crisis, the unemployment of the network’s employees aggravates their economic and health situations as well as those of their families. They need a government that understands their plight," it said.
"Advocating the mantra, 'May alam, May pakialam', the department urges the ABS-CBN management, media workers, and the public to resist all forms of oppression by seeking and supporting lawful actions to resolve the issues."
The De La Salle University on Tuesday night lit up the facade of its Manila campus in the network's colors of red, green and blue as a show of support for the country's largest broadcast company.