When various groups rallied behind ABS-CBN after franchise rejection
This article is part of a series commemorating the House of Representatives' 70-11 vote on July 10, 2020 rejecting ABS-CBN's franchise renewal.
MANILA— After 70 members of the House of Representatives spelled the death of ABS-CBN's fresh franchise bid a year ago today, scores of groups from all walks of life have shown support for and solidarity with the embattled network.
ABS-CBN went through the wringer— 13 Congress sessions in total— before a House panel "killed" its franchise bid exactly a year ago today despite the network's explanations that it has not violated any law.
Support for ABS-CBN came through statements from various press groups and institutions locally and internationally, condemning the chamber's move as an assault on press freedom in the country. The loss of ABS-CBN's free-to-air services, they said, undermines access to critical information, especially in remote areas.
Various groups also lamented the loss of jobs the franchise rejection caused.
Groups such as press and law institutions and members of the academe also sounded the alarm on the "chilling effect" of the House's decision on the local media as a whole.
They blasted President Rodrigo Duterte — who made it clear in previous pronouncements that he was against renewing ABS-CBN’s franchise — for the shutdown.
From across all walks of life, ABS-CBN also received strong showing of solidarity after the network signed off, with fans and workers of the network organizing campaigns and events to demand that the network be brought back to air.
They cited consequences of the shutdown on public access to free information and entertainment shows, especially at a time when the country is gripped by a pandemic.
One year since, we take a look back at how organizations and individuals expressed support for ABS-CBN after its franchise was denied by 70 House members.
Dark day for democracy, press freedom, according to press groups
Journalists covering the Duterte administration, international press organizations, the academe and media institutions grieved for the network and took a stand for ABS-CBN as the House panel voted against a fresh franchise.
The Malacañang Press Corps described the move as the state’s "warning to the press."
"We deplore the blatant and arrogant abuse of power. This is a warning to the press: do not offend the powers that be. One less watchdog is one step towards tyranny," they said in a statement.
They added: "A thousand little cuts do not make us weak, these make us stronger. History is never kind to tyrants."
For the Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines, the Congress proceedings were "never a fair hearing." They added: "In fact, it was never a hearing of the application for the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise. It was an incrimination."
The Defense Press Corps blasted the House of Representatives, saying it did "a disservice to their constituents by placing their own sentiments above the Filipinos’ Constitutionally-guaranteed right to information and allowing themselves to be used in muzzling the free press from speaking often unpalatable truths."
"In denying ABS-CBN’s franchise, the lower house of Congress resembles a house of minions and not of true representatives of the people," it said.
News media outfits such as Rappler and reporters of the Philippine Daily Inquirer also took a stand, urging their colleagues in the industry to do the same.
According to Rappler: "ABS-CBN's battle is also ours. The decision of the House of Representatives’ committee on legislative franchises to deny ABS-CBN a franchise renewal in the middle of a pandemic shows the shamelessly skewed priorities of this administration."
Philippine Daily Inquirer reporters in a statement also said: "Journalists should never be the de facto publicists of politicians. Journalists are watchdogs of the government and society, armed with critical thought, as well as fair, truthful reporting to help people make informed choices about the world they live in."
Groups such as the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, watchdog organization Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines described the franchise rejection as a blow to press freedom, and sounded the alarm on the effects of the shutdown on the livelihood of over 11,000 workers in the media giant.
"[It] will silence one of the country’s most influential and independent media outlets in the middle of a deadly pandemic," CPJ’s Senior Southeast Asia representative Shawn Crispin said in a statement posted on their website.
"The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) condemns the vote of the House of Representatives' committee on legislative franchises to reject the license renewal of ABS-CBN, the country's largest broadcaster, as a painful stab at press freedom," FOCAP said in a statement.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said Congress branded itself as an "enemy of democracy" with the franchise rejection.
"Today, this chamber has lost all claim to represent the people and our interests. Today, not only have more than 11,000 people been stripped of their jobs, millions of Filipinos have been deprived of their right to know and their right to choose how to access the information they need to decide on their futures as well as the entertainment that allows them a respite from the hardships of life," the NUJP said.
Academic groups such as the Philippine Association of Communication Educators (PACE), and faculty members and students from the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Arts and Letters Student Council, the UST Journalism Society, and the Ateneo de Manila University's Department of Communication lamented the effects of the franchise denial, calling on their communities to be vigilant against the decision.
In its statement, PACE said they would strive to participate in electoral education initiatives for the upcoming elections as well as educate communication students on what went down this time last year.
"We will write in Philippine media books and we will always teach students enrolled in communication and its allied fields that today, July 10, 2020, is an unfortunate historical moment because of the legislators and their invisible powers-that-be who assaulted press freedom," the statement read.
The UST Artlets Student Council urged fellow students and youth "not to cower in fear, but to resist tyranny and fascism." The Ateneo de Manila University Communication Department, meanwhile urged their students to be “vigilant in the face of these threats to our democracy."
Some universities also held activities to show their support for the embattled network. The De La Salle University and Letran lit up their buildings to show solidarity with ABS-CBN.
Advocates, the clergy decry 'chilling effect'
Various local and international rights groups also sounded the alarm over the lower chamber’s move. International watchdog Human Rights Watch said Congress’ decision solidified "the tyranny of President Rodrigo Duterte who accused ABS-CBN of slights against him and politically targeted it for refusing to toe the government’s line and criticizing his so-called 'war on drugs.'"
Local rights group Karapatan said the Congress’ rejection of a fresh franchise "was a sign of even darker days to come."
"It is also an attack on the rights of thousands of workers who are set to lose their jobs in the middle of a pandemic and economic crisis; it is a denial of the people’s right to know, of people’s access to relevant, timely, important, and life-saving information in the middle of a public health crisis," Karapatan said in a statement.
Rights body Commission on Human Rights, meanwhile, lamented the "chilling effect" this may have on the freedom of the press.
"Unless Congress can disabuse the minds of the public that its decision was not based on a fair review and was devoid of any political consideration, the denial of the franchise, gives a chilling effect on the freedom of the press," it said.
Lea Guerrero, Greenpeace Philippines Country Director, also lamented the move, noting the role of a free press in their environmental advocacy: "As an independent campaigning organization, Greenpeace believes that freedom of the press and free speech are essential in the work to enable solutions to environmental destruction."
KAPATID, a support group for families and friends of political prisoners, decried the fate of ABS-CBN's franchise bid, describing it as similar to "how political prisoners have fallen victim to the government’s brutal moves against those opposing blatant violations of human rights." They also highlighted ABS-CBN’s role in putting a spotlight on the plight of inmates all over the country's correctional facilities.
"Their media workers exposed the plight of inmates struggling with the worst fears brought by the deadly disease. While the government insisted on 100 percent COVID-19-free jails, the media workers of ABS-CBN shed light on stories that need to be told about the rising infections and deaths in prisons, providing hard facts to anxious families about what’s happening inside prisons," they said.
In August, the Coalition of Services of the Elderly, Inc. (COSE) expressed gratitude for the support given to them by ABS-CBN.
Non-profit development organization IBON Foundation, while condemning the shutdown, said they were hopeful the public "will keep fighting for the truth and against authoritarian rule."
Members of the Catholic Church, such as now Vicar Apostolic of Taytay and Palawan Archbishop Broderick Pabillo lamented the shutdown and warned of a rising "power of authoritarianism," citing the signing of the Anti-Terror Law and the libel conviction of Rappler's CEO Maria Ressa.
"Parang bugbog na ang tao. Bugbog ng gobyerno sa kanyang kapalpakan sa pagtugon sa coronavirus pandemic, at mas lalong nakakagalit, bugbog ng makinarya ng gobyerno na ipakita na siya ay makapangyarihan," Pabillo, then the Archdiocese Administrator of the Archbishop of Manila, said in a statement a day after the House panel decision.
(It felt like the government was clobbering the public because of its incompetence in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, and what's more enraging is that it used its own machineries to show off its power.)
Lawmakers and other key political figures also expressed dismay and concern over Congress’ decision. One of them was Manila 6th District Rep. Bienvenido “Benny” Abante Jr., one of the 11 lawmakers who voted in favor of a fresh franchise application for the network.
In his statement, Abante said the network giant did not do anything wrong, contrary to what 70 of his colleagues in the House said as they decided on the fate of ABS-CBN.
"Sabi ng BIR [Bureau of Internal Revenue], bayad ang kanilang buwis. Sabi ng SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission], aprubado ang kanilang PDRs [Philippine Depositary Receipts]. Sabi ng DOLE [Department of Labor and Employment], sinunod ng ABS-CBN lahat ng compliance orders na ibinigay sa kanila," he said.
(The BIR said it paid its taxes. The SEC said its PDRs are approved, and the DOLE said ABS-CBN complied with the orders given to them.)
For Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, the appeal for a fresh franchise for the network giant got rejected because it "stepped on some powerful political toes," adding the move was akin to when the network was also shut down in 1972 under the rule of then dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said history will prevail with the decision of the lower chamber.
"At a time when Filipinos are sick, jobless & hungry, history will judge those who tried to silence the truth. History will be harsh to those who ignored the most basic needs of Filipinos during this pandemic & instead used it to consolidate power for selfish reason," Hontiveros said.
Other lawmakers, such as Sen. Sonny Angara and Sen. Joel Villanueva, sympathized with the possible effect of the rejection on ABS-CBN employees, especially as the country continued to battle the economic effects of the pandemic.
Vice President Leni Robredo also warned of the “wide implications” this may have on the journalism industry, given its “chilling effect.”
"Malawak ang implikasyon ng desisyong ito. Mayroon itong chilling effect: Hindi kalabisang isipin na maaaring magbabago ang editorial choices ng ibang pahayagan gawa ng panggigipit na ginawa sa ABS-CBN," she said in a statement immediately after the shutdown.
(This decision has wide implications. It has a chilling effect: it wouldn't be surprising to see the changes in editorial policies of other networks because of the harassment done to ABS-CBN.)
She then urged the public to remember the names of lawmakers who decided to reject ABS-CBN's fresh franchise bid.
"Bawat pahayag, bawat pagkilos ngayon ay may ambag sa mahabang proseso upang maabot ang lipunang tunay na malaya at makatao," she said.
(Any statement or movement now contributes to the long process to achieve a free and humane society.)