MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Broadcasting giant GMA-7's dismissal of its staff in regional stations despite being financially robust is callous, heartless, and appalling, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said in a statement on Monday, April 27.
NUJP regarded the network's claim of "strategic streamlining" to justify the layoffs as a "play on words" that "belies the grim reality that almost all employees in regional news desks of the network will lose their jobs."
Questioning the justification that GMA-7 used, NUJP argued that the network "is not on the brink of bankruptcy with no recourse but to let go of its employees to stay afloat."
Under the Constitution, workers are guaranteed security of tenure or the right against termination without just cause and due process.
"GMA-7 is not in the red. It is not bleeding," NUJP explained, citing the network giant's reported "net income of P1.01 billion in 2014 and at least a billion pesos yearly in 2012 and 2013."
It said the network's management – "in one swoop" and "without sufficient warning" on April 23 and 24 – "put in peril the future of the families of hundreds of its employees and talents, many of whom have spent many years of their lives dedicated to the company and the public that they serve."
Mike Tolang, a veteran cameraman in Cagayan de Oro, said employees like him were left in the dark with no idea of what hit them and what awaits them. The only instruction was that they are not to report to the news desk until Wednesday, April 29, he added.
"Clearly, hundreds of jobs and lives have been put in the altar of sacrifice for more profits for its owners and investors at the expense of loyal and dedicated employees and talents," NUJP alleged.
"Based on a compensation filing made by the network, its top 5 executives received a total of P141.72 million" in 2014, NUJP said.
"We stand with our colleagues who lost their jobs. What happened to them can happen to any media worker in the country who, despite our noble profession, many continue to be treated as dispensable pawns," it added.
The group also challenged businessman Ramon Ang, who recently acquired a 30% stake in the network, if he really wants "to team up with a company that does not think twice of letting its people go for the sake of revenues alone."
NUJP disseminated its statement on social media and used the heart-shaped rendering found in the GMA-7 logo, but in black. A version of this was seen on Monday evening as the cover photo in GMA-7 Davao local morning show Una Ka Bai's Facebook page.
The said union of journalists boasts of some 1,500 members worldwide.
Sought for comment, GMA-7 said it understood NUJP's stance in favor of the affected journalists but found unfortunate the group's disregard of the network's "substantial losses from its regional operations and from its local programs."
Only "after many years" of such losses did it discontinue some of the local programs, its statement read.
Ang, the network maintained, "had absolutely nothing to do with the decision."
Reports from various provinces
In defense of the retrenchments, the network previously said it "is in the process of undertaking a strategic streamlining of programs and manpower in its provincial stations to ensure business competitiveness."
The reduction in manpower "targets more efficient operations," it added in a statement. "Severance packages are offered by GMA to all affected personnel."
On Friday, April 24, a representative from GMA-7 in Manila came to Bacolod to inform the regional office's staff that their last day of work was also on that day. At least 20 employees were laid off.
The only local show, Isyu Subong Negrense, also went off air.
The GMA Bacolod office will still operate as a relay of the local channel, but there will be no employees, only engineers, working.
GMA-7 Cagayan de Oro, on the other hand, had its last local broadcast last Friday. Staff members said they will have a final meeting on Wednesday.
There are at least 40 employees in GMA-7 Northern Mindanao.
In the cities of Legazpi and Naga in Bicol, reports have surfaced some time last February about the closing down of the network's offices there.
In Cebu, the retrenched employees have turned to social media, such as social networking site Facebook, to express their dismay. Journalists in Cebu were urged to turn their profile pictures to plain black.
Sara Duterte, former Davao City mayor and host of GMA-7 Davao's local morning show Una Ka Bai, posted on her Instagram account a photo of her alarm clock in her phone and said: "Goodbye alarm. I will miss you. This is the only job that left a mark in my life." – with reports from Bobby Lagsa in Cagayan de Oro, Karlos Manlupig in Davao, Rhaydz Barcia in Legazpi, Dale Israel in Cebu, and Marchel Espina in Bacolod/Rappler.com