The view from a newbie
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.
Long-time journalist Ronron Calunsod had just joined ABS-CBN as a deputy editor for ABS-CBN News Digital Media in January 2020 when, just months later, the network faced a crippling broadcast shut down. He had been unfazed about moving to the network, believing it was an unlikely scenario. That is, until it happened on May 5, 2020.
Halfway through my 8-hour duty on May 5 last year, exchanges about a cease and desist order from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) against ABS-CBN were moving quickly among my colleagues in the news department of the broadcast network.
I was already working from home at that time, just like many of my fellow ABS-CBN News Digital Media staff, as precaution against COVID-19. It had only been a little over three months since I formally joined the company.
On my first day in January last year, somebody told me about the possibility of me becoming jobless a few months later. I dismissed that, believing that in a just society as ours, no matter the occasional flaws, the right prevails -- ABS-CBN will not be deprived of a new franchise.
Yes, I went through the hiring process for a job in ABS-CBN despite threats to the network’s franchise years prior. Joining the company was an opportunity to take part in its news department’s “service to the Filipino” by providing relevant and inspiring stories, I told myself.
As lawmakers started to tackle the franchise application of ABS-CBN weeks later, I became more hopeful that relevant government officials would take a favorable attitude toward it, especially after hearing the NTC’s assurance of a provisional authority to be issued.
But the threat was becoming real, at least for me, when, on the eve of the last day of the validity of ABS-CBN’s previous franchise --- also World Press Freedom Day, the Office of the Solicitor General warned the NTC about its intent: NTC commissioners may face prosecution under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act if they defy the OSG’s position, the latter said.
True enough, in the afternoon of May 5, 2020, ABS-CBN was served a closure order for its broadcast operations.
As deputy news editor of news.abs-cbn.com, I initially took the matter as just another breaking news. I was monitoring, and then partly asking our staff to write articles from the interviews on DZMM TeleRadyo.
Briefly, I shared the news with my family.
No matter how shocking and saddening the NTC decision was, I remained focused on my task, out of instinct, to deliver the news during the first couple of hours. I continued monitoring the interviews about the cease and desist order on TV Patrol so we could include those in our news articles.
It was only until I learned that ABS-CBN was going to follow the order by going off air that night that the situation sank in. Sadness crept in, for the company and for the people who rely on it -- both workers and audience.
While I hadn't even been with ABS-CBN for four months at that time, my connection with the network dates back to the 1990s when I was a young boy in Surigao del Sur. Everyone in the neighborhood grew up watching ABS-CBN news and current affairs, and entertainment programs. Several years later, ABS-CBN would form a major part in my broadcast communication studies in UP, it being a prominent topic in the discussion of the history of broadcasting in the country, and having taken my radio internship at DZMM.
As my family’s provider, I began feeling anxious amid the possibility of what I was warned about only a few months back. I have a son who’s only starting to go to school. I got worried as well for my fellow employees.
I felt sad also for the country. The shutdown of ABS-CBN, as with some major developments in the country these past few years, partly reflects the direction this country has been driven to.
The national anthem has never conveyed such a profound meaning to me as it did when it was played before the broadcast sign-off announcement that evening of May 5 last year. It reinforced the impact on me of anchor Noli de Castro’s powerful closing spiel on TV Patrol that night.
Two days later, some of my colleagues checked on me, if I had some regrets joining the team because of what happened. No, I did not, I told them. I felt that the challenges, starting from the eruption of Taal Volcano, to the onset of the pandemic, and then the ABS-CBN franchise, made my employment more meaningful.
As months went by, with the House Committee on Legislative Franchises finally killing the new franchise bid of ABS-CBN on July 10 despite relevant government agencies clearing the network of alleged irregularities, my anxiety was building up. A lot of thoughts ran through my head, and I could hardly sleep for so many nights.
At some point, I was feeling guilty that I was keeping my job despite being a newbie, while many others who had spent most of their lives in the company were getting retrenched as a result of the shutdown. A colleague advised me not to carry the feeling. “Be sad and commiserate; that’s natural. But not guilt,” she said. Implementing its retrenchment program after it was forced to cease the operations of some of its businesses was painful for the company.
A year on, I continue to work for ABS-CBN, carefully editing articles and related content for its news digital platform, mindful of these words of the late Geny Lopez: “ABS-CBN always has been and will always be in the service of the Filipino.”
The challenges remain, but I share the determination of all of us to carry on. My hope for brighter days for ABS-CBN is anchored on this biblical phrase: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”