‘I’m getting the martial law feels’: Negrenses hit ABS-CBN shutdown

Marchel P. Espina
ABS-CBN is popular on the island in Western Visayas that hosts one of its local stations

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – Residents of Negros Island slammed the order of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to shut down the operations of media giant ABS-CBN.

ABS-CBN is popular on the island in Western Visayas that hosts one of its local stations. 

Negrenses interviewed by Rappler said its closure would not only endanger the jobs of 11,000 workers – including 70 people employed at the local station in Bacolod City – it was also an attack on press freedom and people’s right to information. 

Mark Garcia, a communications consultant and filmmaker, said ABS-CBN’s role was especially crucial as the country continued to fight the coronavirus pandemic.  

“With the Philippines now facing a much bigger war against the coronavirus disease, the government chose to chase irrelevant and baseless allegations against ABS-CBN, which employs 11,000 Filipinos nationwide,” he said.

He urged the people to fight back. “We demand that NTC be accountable for its reckless and irresponsible move against the media network. We demand Congress to fast-track the renewal of franchise of ABS-CBN,” he said. 

Kristel Marie Laconse, a marketing analyst from Talisay City, shared his views. “The fact that this government has the guts to silence its critic and  can choose what TV stations can operate, we’re doomed,” Laconse said. 

She said the absence of critical media meant the government will be able to control the messages that reach the public.

Jong Poblador, a writer from Dumaguete City, said she was alarmed when she learned that the government forced ABS-CBN to go off-air.

“I’m getting the martial law feels. Information is suppressed and is being limited,” she said. 

“It’s our basic right to be informed and be aware especially during times of uncertainty and instability, man-made or otherwise. This basic right should be part of the government’s responsibility, yet it willfully chose to curtail it,” she said.

She said these were “classic authoritarian” moves to divide the people and silence platforms that provide check and balance, which went against the very grain of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. 

“People choose to be ignorant because it’s easier that way,” she said.

John Albert Pagunsan, a teacher from Bacolod City, said ABS-CBN has played an important role in keeping the Negrenses informed about important issues that affect them.

“As an educator, diverse and multiple sources of information is important for my classes to have a multiperspective and balanced but progressive and liberal understanding of social issues,” he said.

“And when we say information, we are not only talking about news, ABS-CBN entertainment has wealth of materials that talk about our culture, values and issues,” he said.

“For the academe, [ABS-CBN’s closure] means my students have a narrower understanding of Philippine society because there are less diversity and a loss of perspective in the media ecosystem now.”

He believed ABS-CBN had “lapses” in its reporting and labor practices, but shutting it down was not the solution. “This needs to be resolved [through a] fair and just due process,” he said. 

He slammed Congress and the executive department for failing to act on ABS-CBN’s application for franchise renewal much sooner. “Their negligence has made us poorer with one less choice of information,” he said.

Students from Bacolod City also joined protests against the NTC’s order to shut down ABS-CBN.

Senior high school Krisella Quinto said the network is part of many Filipinos’ daily lives.

Its shutdown did not only result in the unemployment of more than 11,000 employees, it also deprived people of their access to information.

“What is more saddening is that this happened just days after [the celebration of the] World Press Freedom Day [on May 3],” she said.

“Now, thousands of journalists are about to lose their jobs. It’s an evident act of media oppression,” she said.

Student activist Joshua Villalobos said ABS-CBN News has been the people’s primary source of information for decades, especially for families who don’t have access to international news organizations such as CNN and Al Jazeera.

“This shutdown impaired the voice of the ‘watchdog’ that keeps an eye on the government and the ‘megaphone’ that broadcasts matters of life-and-death information,” he said. 

Campus journalist Hezron Pios said a large portion of the population will struggle with the absence of ABS-CBN on television, even if it would still operate through other platforms.

He fears more people will become victims of misinformation and “fake news.” 

“This is not a problem that can be solved by turning to other channels or accepting the network’s demise. It should make us panic because it directly impacted our democracy and thousands of livelihood,” he said. 

“When this detachment further spirals down, those who are in power will be left unchecked. In these trying times of the pandemic, transparency is best expected from the government. However, I am looking forward to a nation finally coming to terms with its complacency and ready to fight back,” he said. 

The local chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines issued a statement calling the government move a blatant disregard of the freedom of the press and an attack on independent media. 

“The government, clearly, abhors press freedom,” the local NUJP said. 

The journalists’ group underscored the role of the media in fact-checking disinformation that seemed to have worsened during the pandemic. 

It said shuttding down ABS-CBN diminishes the public’s access to information during a critical time, especially in the provinces where smaller media organizations had to stop operating temporarily due to the enhanced community quarantines.

“Access to information and news is vital to one’s survival right now,” the local NUJP said. 

“We call on our colleagues to stand up and fight.” – Rappler.com