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Phl govt shuts ABS-CBN amid pandemic

06 May 2020

By The SUN

This is how the station appeared on TV after it was closed down by the Duterte government.

 The Philippines’ biggest and oldest television network, ABS-CBN, went off the air at exactly 7:46pm today, May 5, after being issued a “cease and desist order” by the National Telecommunications Commission a day after its franchise lapsed.

It was the second time the 67-year-old network was silenced since 1972, when the late President Ferdinand Marcos seized it after declaring martial law. ABS was restored to its owners, the Lopez family, after the popular revolt in 1986.

It comes as the country remains locked down as part of measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic, and while several bills relating to the network’s franchise renewal were left pending before the House of Representatives.


The broadcast giant shut down not only its iconic TV station, but also its five AM radio stations, 18 FM stations and 42 TV stations, in line with the NTC order.

The forced shutdown immediately drew condemnation from various institutions and individuals, many of them journalists.

A statement from the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap) said in part: “The order threatens press freedom at a time when the public needs an unfettered press the most. As the Philippines reels from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, ABS-CBN’s critical eye is needed now more than ever to help inform the public.

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“The move is clearly a case of political harassment against a pillar of Philippine democracy that employs thousands of Filipinos whose livelihoods are now at risk with the order.”

The University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication did not mince words in laying the blame squarely on President Duterte in its statement: “Again, the current administration demonstrates the lengths it will go to silence critical media voices.”

De La Salle University made its sentiment known by lighting up its Taft campus with ABS’ bright colors.

De La Salle University laments the loss of press freedom by projecting the ABS-CBN colors on its facade. 

An outspoken lawyers’ group, Free Legal Assistance noted with a tinge of sadness: “This is how liberty dies, not with a loud bang but with dead air.”

The station stopped programming after its lead news anchors Noli de Castro, Bernadette Sembrano and Ted Failon thanked their viewers.

De Castro, who has long been identified as a supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, nevertheless struck a defiant tone by saying: “We will not remain silent on this attack to our democracy.”

This appeared in many social accounts of netizens.

Stunned netizens, many of them journalists, vented their anger, frustration and defiance on social media, calling the NTC’s order an attack on press freedom.

“Is this how we heal as one?”, asked veteran journalist Emmie Velarde.

Another journalist from the Marcos-era press, Eugenio Ramos, noted in the same thread: “It looks like a part of an undeclared martial law.”

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong Dream Love.

Pocholo Concepcion, an editor at one of the country’s dailies, proclaimed above a picture of the station’s logo, with its distinctive bright colors replaced with black and white: “I stand with ABS-CBN. Defend press freedom.”

Karen Davila, an outspoken anchor at ABS, lashed out with: “Sa dami ng problema ng Pilipinas…sa dami ng nagkakasakit sa Covid…sa laki ng problema ngayon sa ekonomiya…sa dami ng nawalan ng trabaho dahil sa Covid…talagang pagpapatigil sa ABS CBN ang inatupag nila. Hindi ko maintindihan nasaan ang puso ng mga ito.”

Even Mon Tulfo, a close ally of Duterte posted: “I was crying as ABS-CBN was bidding goodbye to the nation in the last few minutes before its closure. Yes, I shed copious tears but I’m sure millions of my countrymen were also crying. Last time I heard we’re a democratic country where freedom of the press and of speech is one of the hallmarks.”
But then he added, “But if I know President Digong he will have the network reopened in the next few days.You wanna bet?”

Just before the station went off the air, several of its officials, including President and CEO Carlo Katigbak and ABS-CBN Corporation Chair Mark Lopez, spoke during a portion of primetime news program TV Patrol.

“We are asking for your continued support so that we may continue our service through our broadcasts,” Katigbak said.

He said ABS-CBN also complied with all requirements of its franchise renewal and broke now laws.

After TV Patrol, ABS-CBN formally signed off.  DZMM’s AM and MOR’s FM radio broadcasts also fell silent, along with their online livestreams.

But the station’s overseas channel, TFC, said “it will remain and continue to deliver relevant news and information, TV shows and movies across our different channels and platforms via cable and satellite, IPTV, and TFC Online.”

NTC released the order after ABS-CBN’s legislative franchise expired on May 4. But before this, NTC sought legal advice from  the Department of Justice, which said there was “sufficient equitable basis” to allow the station to continue operating while bills for the renewal of its franchise was pending with Congress.

Lawmakers, in turn, said they were expecting NTC to release a provisional franchise to the network to give them time to discuss issues the media giant’s franchise renewal.

Despite these, NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios said that its cease and desist order stemmed from “questions” about its franchise, which were among issues raised by Solicitor General Jose Calida to the Supreme Court in his quo warranto petition against the station last February.


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