MANILA - ABS-CBN Corp. has been one of the media networks that has consistently covered the COVID-19 health crisis since it hit the Philippines last January.
So, when the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) ordered the broadcast giant to shut down its TV and radio operations on Tuesday, many Filipinos who were shocked, including ABS-CBN Integrated News chief Ging Reyes.
"Ang ABS-CBN ay napakabilis ng naging aksyon patungkol sa kung paano ico-cover at mag-aadjust sa pagbabago na idinulot ng COVID-19 sa bayan natin," she said in a live Facebook video hosted by the National Journalists' Union of the Philippines on Friday.
(ABS-CBN acted fast on how it will cover and adjust to changes in our country caused by COVID-19.)
"Kaya laking gulat na lang namin at maging kayong lahat, alam ko, nang ilabas, ang una ay warning pa lamang mula sa office ng Solicitor General, at ilang araw lang mula noon, ayun na nga, dumating na ang 'cease-and-desist' order mula sa National Telecommunications Commission."
(So it came as a big shock to us and to you too, I know, when the warning from the Solicitor General was made and, days after, the 'cease-and-desist' order came.)
The NTC ordered ABS-CBN to stop broadcasting, one day after the company’s 25-year franchise expired. Before the order, Solicitor General Jose Calida had warned the NTC against issuing a temporary permit to operate for ABS-CBN, while the broadcast company's franchise renewal is still pending in Congress.
It turned out that Calida pressured NTC to issue the cease and desist order.
"This was an assault on democracy. Ito ay bayolente, marahas na aksyon para pigilan ang malalayang pamamahayag (This a violent, ruthless action to curtail freedom of the press)," Reyes stressed.
Reyes said the shutdown of ABS-CBN, which reaches out to far-flung provinces in the Philippines that have no internet connection or access to online platforms of the network, deprives people in those areas of information in a time when the public needs it the most.
"We are in a democracy and part of that is providing freedom of choice to our news consumers and our news audience," she said.
"Hindi ito ayon sa public interest. Ang ginawa ng NTC ay isang masasabi kong pagtatraydor at pagtalikod sa kaniyang pangako sa harap ng lehislatura."
(This does not serve public interest. What the NTC did was a betrayal and they also broke their promise to Congress.)
The NTC in March said it would let ABS-CBN stay on air after Congress issued a joint resolution authorizing it to issue a provisional permit.
Despite the shutdown of ABS-CBN's broadcast operations, Reyes said the news division will still continue to its job. Although executives of the firm have assured employees of their job security,
a decline in advertising revenues would hurt the company.
"Hanggang kailan 'yon, hindi ba? Hindi naman po unlimited ang resources ng isang kompaniya na alam naman nating dumedepende sa advertising revenue," she said.
(That's until when, right? Resources are not unlimited in a company which relies on advertising revenue.)
Since the shutdown, ABS-CBN has been losing P35 million a day in revenues, according to Reyes.
The news chief, a former head of ABS-CBN's North America bureau, called on Filipinos for support in this time of the company's need.
"Sana'y hindi niyo kami iwanan at patuloy po kami ninyo samahan sa labang ito. Patuloy po tayo magbantay dahil ang pagkakasara ng aming broadcast platforms ay napakalaking dagok sa ating demokrasiya, [at] isang masamang senyales para sa kalayaan natin," she said.
(We hope that you won't abandon us and that you continue to join us in this fight. Let us continue to be vigilant because the closure of our broadcast platforms is a big setback to our democracy and a bad sign for our liberties.)
Media groups, rights advocates and lawmakers blasted the NTC's move to close ABS-CBN's broadcast operations, calling it a "suppression of press freedom" and a prelude to dictatorship in the Philippines.
President Rodrigo Duterte had many times threatened to veto ABS-CBN's franchise renewal, but changed his stand to being neutral on the franchise after ABS-CBN chief executive officer Carlo Katigbak apologized to him for airing a negative political ad in the 2016 presidential elections which the Duterte camp sought to block.
news.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.