Death in the Pamilya

Lynda Jumilla-Abalos, Executive Editor and Head of News Digital ABS-CBN

Posted at May 04 2021 11:12 PM

This piece is part of a series to mark the first anniversary of the shutdown of ABS-CBN’s broadcast on free TV and radio which happened May 5, 2020.

An elderly couple watches the final broadcast of ABS-CBN on free TV before the network signed off on May 5, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Lynda Jumilla is the executive editor and head of ABS-CBN News Digital, and a Kapamilya for 21 years. Like the rest of the News Digital team, she was on WFH (work from home) mode when government on May 5, 2020 ordered ABS-CBN to stop broadcasting. She talks about how the shutdown of operations - ABS-CBN’s bread-and-butter - was like a death in the family.

May 5, 2020 arrived bringing with it a sense of anticipation mixed with foreboding punctuated by jitters. The same feeling we in ABS-CBN News get when we expect big news to break during the day. Except that this time, WE were the news. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

As early as 7 am, I was toggling between chat groups and message threads; discussing stories, relaying instructions, reviewing plans. Since the lockdown in March 2020 – and to this day – the News Digital team of which I’m a member had been working from home, and meetings had been purely online. 

On another thread, I was chatting with my friends and colleagues D, N, and C about our favorite topic: anything and everything. That day, we were busy sharing childhood pictures of us in mumus and grass skirts and apple haircuts – triggered by a video clip of a 70s hit OPM song that D posted. For a while, all was well in the world. But at 2 pm, the urgency of the present moment caught up with our musings of the past.

“Last na lang because I have to write something,” I wrote as I shared one last photo of myself and my sister in bell-bottom pants. “Baka daw may ilabas ang NTC (National Telecommunications Commission) today so I need to write embargo.”

(The NTC may release something today so I need to write an embargo story on it.)

That “something” was the Cease-and-Desist Order (CDO) we had been anticipating since ABS-CBN’s franchise ended on May 4, with the application for renewal still languishing at the House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Franchises.

At around 4 pm, it happened. We became the news after government ordered the country’s biggest network with about 11,000 employees to shut down its broadcast operations.

The rest of the afternoon sped by in a blur. I went back to flitting from one message group to another, dropping in on one (virtual) meeting to the next, while always going back to my chat with D, N, and C. But this time, our discussions were on the matter at hand, whether we understood instructions correctly, and what have we carried out so far in our respective teams.

Eventually, top management announced we would stop broadcasting on free TV (Channel 2 and provincial stations) and radio (DZMM 630 on AM, DWRR 101.9 FM, and provincial stations) after TV Patrol. Colleagues began to pour into the newsroom upon hearing that night would be our last broadcast.

Those working from home had no chance to make the trip to the ABS-CBN compound in Quezon City for that historic moment. So some us did the next best thing: organize a sort of watch party where we all followed the last airing of TV Patrol on Channel 2 in our respective homes.

For the first time in a long while, I turned on the TV at home to watch TV Patrol from start to finish. 

“Sa pag-atakeng ito sa ating demokrasya at malayang pamamahayag; sa harap ng pinakamalaking dagok at hamon sa aming kumpanya at sa aming hanapbuhay, hinding-hindi namin kayo tatalikuran,” intoned anchor Noli De Castro in his closing spiel. “Mga Kapamilya, kami… tayo… ang ABS-CBN. In the service of the Filipino.” 

(In the face of this attack on democracy and press freedom, this biggest blow on our company and our livelihood, never shall we turn our backs on you. We, all of us, are ABS-CBN. In the service of the Filipino.) 

For the last time until who knows when or how, I stayed in front of the TV to watch the dying minutes of the broadcast, including the roll-call in the closing credits – from the location of the transmitter to the names and license numbers of the engineers to the final sign-off line.

“This is ABS-CBN Corporation Channel 2, in the service of the Filipino, now signing off,” Peter Musngi said in a rather cheery tone in sharp contrast to the gloomy feeling of the last broadcast. And then at 7:52 pm, the screen faded to black.

Right at that moment, it felt like a loved one had died. But it would take days, weeks, months for us to fully comprehend why the ABS-CBN shutdown was like a death in the family; one which we could not even properly grieve.

The newsroom during the final broadcast of TV Patrol and ABS-CBN following the cease and desist order of the National Telecommunications Commission for the network to broadcast on free TV. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

One year on, we know now what we have lost.
For the thousands of ABS-CBN employees who lost their jobs, the broadcast shutdown was like the death of the family provider on whom they depended for sustenance. But there was no time to be sorry or sorrowful. They had to find a new job quick, in order to survive.

For those in ABS-CBN businesses that were unaffected by the shutdown, the closure of the profitable broadcast operation was like losing the family’s breadwinner. They had to act quickly to hold together what remained of the family. They had to take over and make the business viable again – and fast – to stem the loss of jobs.

For the entire ABS-CBN family and the viewers and listeners that we considered our Kapamilya (family members), the abrupt cessation of ABS-CBN’s broadcast was like the loss of a loved one in the middle of a pandemic. We wanted to come together at a time of sadness, to cry together, hug each other, give comfort as well as receive. But even this simple act of mourning as one was not possible. 

On July 10, 2020, 70 congressmen backed by the then House leadership voted to deny ABS-CBN’s bid to resume broadcasting on free-to-air TV and radio. “They killed ABS-CBN’S franchise application,” many said.

But for many of us in the company, death came to our ABS-CBN pamilya at 7:52 pm on May 5, 2020.