The long, dark silent night
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.
Regina “Ging” Reyes is ABS-CBN’s news chief.
She joined ABS-CBN in 1986 as a production assistant as the network reopened after it was shut down during the Marcos dictatorship. She rose from the ranks, eventually becoming the executive producer for The World Tonight and later on, as the pioneering force in ABS-CBN’s North America Bureau as its chief.
She became head of the news division in 2010 and is currently the longest-serving ABS-CBN news chief in the organization’s history.
I went home from the office later than usual. I used to leave the newsroom after TV Patrol finished airing. But that night was like no other. For 11,000 workers and their families, May 5, 2020 was the beginning of a long, dark silent night.
Some images have stayed with me to this day.
After we received the National Telecommunications Commission's (NTC) Cease and Desist Order, everyone in the newsroom started working to break the news on all our platforms. It was the kind of organized chaos that all of us have become familiar with.
I remember telling the team not to cry. That we had work to do. That we were prepared for this day. That we had a plan. Later on, I would be reminded of a phrase in a Robert Burns poem: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” After Noli de Castro delivered his final spiel in TV Patrol, we all gathered in front of the TV monitor, watching Channel 2 sign off for good.
I remember getting into a huddle with some staff after the screen went black. Someone said, “Fight, News!” And we responded with applause and cheers, hoping that there would be/could be/should be a reversal of our misfortune. It may have been a collective effort to feel better. But it was short-lived, replaced by the somber mood that became more palpable with every minute that the TV monitors remained blank.
I remember the tears.
The production staff went about their business of putting the newscast together even as many of them cried while writing, or editing videos and printing scripts. Noli choked as he said goodbye. Ted Failon cried in one corner of the newsroom. Our AM radio station manager Marah Capuyan tried to focus, tears streaming down her face, as I gave her new guidelines that meant dzMM was no more.
And I remember feeling angry that I couldn’t give her, or anyone in the newsroom, a tight hug. We all found ourselves in the surreal position of having to go through this nightmare at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I remember coming home late after that exhausting and emotionally-draining day. My family was waiting, ready to reheat a dinner that had gotten cold. In the presence of those closest to me, I finally came to terms with our new reality. One that most likely meant job losses, pay cuts, and canceled shows. Anger and frustration overlapped with uncertainty and anguish.
Much has been said and written about what became of our newsroom and the fate of the company after we were forced to shut down our broadcast operations. Why it was about press freedom. Why it was not about press freedom. How it was about the oligarchy, or the law. How much were lost in jobs and livelihood and in billions of revenue. How we were stunned by the sudden blow that struck a media giant.
The series of unfortunate events that followed gave me little time to mourn our loss. I needed to steel myself for what was to come. And there would be more.
There would be 12 grueling House committee hearings on the ABS-CBN franchise. Two months after the May 5 shutdown, Congress killed any remaining hope for our return to free TV.
It’s been one year since that dark, silent night.
We have not given up. We still deliver the news. We will wait for that joyous daybreak.