Robredo on ABS-CBN shutdown: No space for suppression, self-interest in a pandemic

Mara Cepeda
Robredo on ABS-CBN shutdown: No space for suppression, self-interest in a pandemic
'Bakit ito ginagawa ngayon sa panahong humaharap tayo sa matinding krisis?' asks Vice President Leni Robredo

MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo opposed the order to close down media giant ABS-CBN, saying it is not the time to do so when the country is still grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.  

Robredo, who has long advocated for press freedom, issued the statement on Tuesday evening, May 5, hours after the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN, whose legislative franchise expired on Monday, May 4. 

“Bakit ito ginagawa ngayon sa panahong humaharap tayo sa matinding krisis? Wala dapat puwang sa panggigipit at pansariling interes sa mga panahon kung kailan dapat nagtutulungan tayo,” the Vice President said. 

(Why do this now at a time when we’re facing a great crisis? There should be no space for suppression and self-interest at a time when we’re supposed to work together.)

“All hands on deck dapat. All social institutions – including media – should be united under a single purpose: ang pagsiguro sa kaligtasan ng buhay ng bawat Pilipino,” she added. 

(It should be all hands on deck. All social institutitions – including media – should be united under a single purpose: to ensure the safety of every Filipino’s life.) 

ABS-CBN went off-air at around 7:52 pm on Tuesday after the NTC ordered it to stop television and radio operations. The closure order came as COVID-19 cases in the country continue to rise, with the total number of infected people now at 9,684 including 637 deaths and 1,408 recoveries.

Bills renewing the network’s franchise were filed as early as 2014, but legislators sat on the issue. The current 18th Congress has so far conducted only two hearings on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal – one each for the Senate and the House in February and March, respectively.  

It’s no secret that both President Rodrigo Duterte and Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano – running mates in the 2016 elections – have grudges against ABS-CBN, which they accused of unfair election coverage. 

Lawmakers had banked on the NTC’s issuance of a provisional authority that will allow ABS-CBN to continue operating beyond May 4, while Congress is still tackling the bills. But NTC still decided to shut the network down.  

On Tuesday, the Vice President said Filipinos rely on the free flow of information to help guide their decisions during times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“This free flow of information literally saves lives. Closing down ABS-CBN costs lives, on top of unnecessarily burdening the thousands who will lose their jobs,” Robredo said.

The Vice President then threw shade at the Duterte administration for closing down ABS-CBN yet allowing the notorious Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) to run their business again.

“Lalong nakabibigla na isasara ang ABS-CBN habang muling pinapayagang magbukas ang mga POGO. Hindi mahirap matukoy kung alin sa dalawang ito ang mas nakatutulong sa pagtugon sa krisis na kinakaharap natin ngayon,” Robredo said. 

(It’s even more surprising that ABS-CBN is being shut down while POGOs are being allowed to reopen. It’s not difficult to determine which among the two is more helpful in responding to the crisis we’re facing right now.)

“Umaasa tayong mamumulat ang administrasyon sa panganib na dala ng pagsasara ng ABS-CBN, lalo na habang patuloy ang krisis pangkalusugang dala ng COVID-19,” she added. 

(We’re hoping this administration would open its eyes to the dangers brought about by the closure of ABS-CBN, especially as the health crisis caused by COVID-19 continues.) 

Various organizations and even lawmakers have condemned the shutdown, slamming the NTC and the Duterte government for “grave abuse of power” and for suppressing the freedom of the press. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.