Philippine bishops decry shutdown of broadcasting network

Employees and supporters of ABS-CBN hold a rally outside the network’s compound in Quezon City on February 28, 2020. Photo: CBCPNews
Employees and supporters of ABS-CBN hold a rally outside the network’s compound in Quezon City on February 28, 2020. Photo: CBCPNews

MANILA (SE): The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) called on the government to think of the common good after it shut down ABS-CBN the Philippines’ largest television and radio network on May 6, CBCP News reported on May 8.

Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, the CBCP president, said attention must be given to the thousands of people who may lose their jobs after the shutdown. He said his first thought goes to them amid these “extremely difficult and trying times” due to the Covid-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) crisis.

Archbishop Valles also raised concerns over the loss of a major source of information as the nation continues to grapple with the pandemic. He expressed hope that the media giant “may be allowed to resume its broadcast the soonest to the benefit of our people”.

The archbishop said, “I sincerely hope and pray that our government, especially our Congress, will work together to resolve the issue.” 

He pointed out, “These days our people truly need more than ever broadcast services that would bring them the much-needed information in this time of crisis,” he said.

ABS-CBN shut down broadcast operations after its 25-year franchise expired on May 4, after the country’s National Telecommunications Commission to immediately cease operations on May 5 in what critics say was a huge blow to press freedom. The order said the network would be in violation of the Radio Control Law if it continued operating without having obtained a franchise from Congress, UCAN reported.

Foot-dragging by Congress and presidential antagonism has put the livelihoods of at least 11,000 people in jeopardy as well as the free flow of information at a time when the country is battling the Covid-19 pandemic (SARS-CoV-2). Over 10,000 infections have been recorded along with 658 deaths and 1,506 recoveries. However, only 140,134 tests have been conducted so far; a ratio of 1,279 per one million out of a population of over 109 million people.

“When freedom of speech or criticism is suppressed, tyranny abounds, liberty dissolves, our country is weakened and human rights are threatened,” Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, the Philippines, said on May 6, in reaction to the closure of the ordered the country’s top entertainment and media corporation. He warned that if freedom of expression and dissent is curtailed, human rights will follow suit.

CBCPNews reported on May 6 that Radio Veritas, which played a key role during the Martial Law years under late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, stood behind ABS-CBN. Radio Veritas president, Father Anton Pascual, said,“we have historically protected the freedom of the press since the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution.”

He added, “We pray that our lawmakers would expeditiously resolve the renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN.” 

Bishop Marcelino Antonio Maralit of Boac, chairperson of the Episcopal Commission on Social Communications, said, “We value and uphold press freedom … the delay of renewal and the closure of any recognised media channel jeopardises this same freedom and deprives our people of their right to access news and information,”  CBCPNews reported on May 8.

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