For ABS-CBN Tacloban’s anchor, franchise loss is a storm worse than Yolanda

Bea Cupin
For ABS-CBN Tacloban’s anchor, franchise loss is a storm worse than Yolanda

IN SERVICE OF THE FILIPINO. Ranulfo Docdocan of ABS-CBN Tacloban is one of many from the RNG who will be retrenched as a result of ABS-CBN's franchise denial. Screenshot from DZMM

Ranulfo Docdocan once walked over 150 kilometers just go get home and bring crucial footage of Yolanda’s first landfall to air. Now he, along with hundreds belonging to ABS-CBN’s Regional Network Group, find themselves in a storm that might be just tougher to handle.

Ranulfo Docdocan has been both witness and victim to one of the worst tragedies not only of the country but of his own community – Super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). A reporter and news anchor for ABS-CBN Tacloban, Docdocan and his cameraman walked all the way of Guiuan in Eastern Samar to Tacloban City, covering close to 150 kilometers over a period of two days. 

Talagang nagsumikap kami na makabalik. Maliban lamang na kailangan naming balikan mga pamilya namin, dala-dala namin ‘yung mga materials para maipakita sa mundo, maipakita sa gobyerno, ng lahat ng tao sa mundo, na ito ‘yung sitwasyon noong tumama ‘yung Bagyong Yolanda sa Guiuan, Eastern Samar,” recalled Docdocan in a July 17 interview on the radio show “Failon Ngayon.”

(We exerted all our efforts to get back. Aside from wanting to return to our families, we had with us footage so that the world, the government, everyone would be able to see what happened in Guiuan when Yolanda hit.) 

For ABS-CBN Tacloban’s anchor, franchise loss is a storm worse than Yolanda

It wasn’t an easy journey.

Guiuan was where Yolanda, still among the strongest typhoons in recorded history, first made landfall in the Philippines. Nearly all structures in the town were damaged, communication lines were cut, and debris and dead bodies littered the streets. Two days after reaching Tacloban City, Docdocan got sick from leptospirosis. 

But for Docdocan, a broadcast veteran who has worked for ABS-CBN since 2007, the hardships of Yolanda might just be easier to bear than the “storm” they’re facing now – the sudden loss of jobs because the network was not granted a new franchise by the House committee on legislative franchises.

Docdocan is only one of hundreds of ABS-CBN’s Regional Network Group (RNG) workers who will find themselves jobless by the end of August 2020. The RNG is only one of many units that will be shut down as a result of ABS-CBN’s franchise loss. 

Ito ‘yung bagyo na…siguro mas matindi pa kay Yolanda. Marami ‘yung mawawalan ng hanapbuhay, mawawalan ng impormasyon, ng kasiyahan, mawawalan ng hanapbuhay. Kahapon, ilang beses kami sinabihan ng management na dahil na rin sa bagyong ito, hindi naibigay ‘yung prankisa, mapipilitan ‘yung management na magtanggalan ng empleyado,” said Docdocan on the program, which featured interviews with ABS-CBN’s reporters and anchors from its different regional stations. 

(This is a storm that might be even tougher to bear than Yolanda. So many will lose jobs, lose access to information, to entertainment, their livelihoods. We were told by management yesterday that because of this storm, because we were not granted a franchise, management is forced to retrench employees. 

Hanggang sa ngayon Ted, ‘di pa nagsisink in (Until now, Ted, it has yet to sink in),” he finally admitted.

Docdocan’s ABS-CBN story reads like a dream-come-true. He first started in 2007, struggled for a year because of paperwork and other requirements, until he eventually rose the ranks to become one of ABS-CBN Tacloban’s reporters, and later, the anchor of its flagship newscast, TV Patrol Eastern Visayas.

From and for the community

The Regional Network Group is composed of 18 regional stations scattered around the country. ABS-CBN Tacloban, which covers the entire Eastern Visayas region, employs over 30 people. Other stations, such as the ones in Cebu and Davao are much larger, employing over 100 people.

The RNG is something many Metro Manila-based viewers, understandably, aren’t familiar with. While its reporters are often called to report for ABS-CBN programs, including its flagship newscast TV Patrol, the RNG gathers and reports news primarily for the community it serves. 

More often than not, they’re the first to report from the field – whether it be for a storm, an earthquake, war, or other crises. “Nandito na tayo para sa serbisyo para sa tao. ‘Di pa dumadating ang bagyo, nauuna pa tayo para ibalita ang sitwasyon ng isang lugar. Nandito tayo sa trabahong ito kumakalap ng balita, syempre kailangan natin maipakita sa bawat lugar, sa buong mundo kung ano yung sitwasyon ng lugar,” said Docdocan, looking back on covering Yolanda.

(We’re in the job to serving the people. Even before a storm makes landfall, we’re there to report on the situation. We’re here to gather news to show the whole world the situation we’re in.) 

Even – and especially – when ABS-CBN Manila-based reporters are sent to augment coverage, the RNG team is invaluable. 

In “normal” times – when there is no calamity – the RNG stations deliver the news in the local language, through their version of TV Patrol. Some RNG stations also produce entertainment and travel programs.

Docdocan’s worries go beyond himself, and even that of his 7-year-old son.

He worries about those who rely on ABS-CBN for their livelihood and those who are now left without a news source because ABS-CBN is the only station they have access to, be it via TV or radio. “‘Yung gobyerno mas naging positive dapat yung approach. ‘Di naman tayo perpekto…pero kung may mga nakita man na sa palagay nila [hindi nararapat], bakit hindi nabigyan ng paraan? Magkaroon ng mga gagawin para mas ma-improve pa,” he said. 

(The government should have taken a more positive approach. We’re not perfect. But if they saw things that they think are not right, then why not find a way to fix it? They could have done something to improve it.) 

On July 10, after several hearings, the House committee of legislative franchises – through votes from both members and ranking House leaders – voted against granting ABS-CBN a new franchise because of alleged “numerous violations” of the terms of its old franchise, which lapsed on May 4. ABS-CBN has been off the free airwaves since May 5.

By July 15, ABS-CBN confirmed that it would be retrenching employees beginning August 31. The retrenchment program has resulted in either the decimation of units or the complete closure or cancellation of programs and entire departments. The network has yet to announce just how many are affected by the retrenchment. 

For Docdocan, and many thousands more ABS-CBN’s employees, the retrenchment doesn’t just mean income loss. It means a dream put to a stop – but hopefully, only temporarily. 

Ito yung pinangarap kong trabaho, na hinuhubog tayo para makatulong sa iba, para magkaroon ng boses. Nakakataba ng puso na binigyan tayo ng paraan na maging boses ng mga taong nangangailangan, naging tulay tayo sa iba’t ibang problema para masolusyonan. Ito ‘yung bagay na talagang maibigay ng pagkakataon na magbigay ng serbisyo sa mga tao, at dahil diyan sa ABS-CBN,” he said. 

(This has always been my dream job, to help others have a voice. It’s heartwarming to think that we were given a chance to be the voice of those who need it the most, to have helped in finding solutions to problems. The chance to give service to the people, that’s all thanks to ABS-CBN.)

All 12 versions of the local TV Patrol will go off air after their respective episodes on August 28, 2020. – Rappler.com 

Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.