Duterte gov't claims Philippines enjoys 'free, robust' press despite ABS-CBN shutdown

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 08 2020 05:40 PM

Duterte gov't claims Philippines enjoys 'free, robust' press despite ABS-CBN shutdown 1
A man lights a candle during a protest rally in front of the ABS-CBN headquarters in Quezon City, May 5, 2020. A government agency ordered the country's largest network to stop its operations over its stalled license renewal. Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News

MANILA- The Philippines continues to enjoy a "free and robust" press even after state regulators forced the country's largest network off air, Malacañang said Friday after the United States expressed concern over the closure of ABS-CBN.

Opposition to President Rodrigo Duterte's administration "remains vocal" despite the shutdown of the Philippines' biggest media network, his spokesman Harry Roque said.

"The Philippines, we assure our foreign friends and allies, continues to have a free and robust press where the critics and the political opposition remain vocal in their aversion to the current government," Roque said.

"We share the view of the US State Department that an independent media is vital to democratic societies like the Philippines. This stance has never wavered on the part of the President and his Administration," he added.

The US State Department on Friday voiced concern over the shutdown of ABS-CBN's broadcasting operations, as it highlighted the importance of free media especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

"An independent media plays a critical role in facilitating the open exchange of information and ideas which is vital to free, prosperous and secure democratic societies," US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

ABS-CBN went off air Tuesday night after television and radio regulators asked the media giant to "cease and desist" from broadcasting as the company has yet to obtain a new franchise.

The network's franchise expired on May 4 while several bills seeking a fresh 25-year license to operate for ABS-CBN languished in Congress for years.

The shutdown was widely condemned by various organizations.

While the Palace has insisted that President Duterte is "completely neutral" on the franchise of ABS-CBN, it could be recalled that he had repeatedly threatened to block the renewal of the company's license to operate.

In December 2019, Duterte even told owners of the network to just sell ABS-CBN.

"As we have said in previous occasions, the President is neutral on the issue and he will leave the matter to the wisdom of our honorable ladies and gentlemen of both chambers of Congress," Roque said.

The last time ABS-CBN was forced off air was during the imposition of Martial Law in 1972.