Duterte legacy: ABS-CBN shutdown leaves 'many people in the dark' during super typhoon

The irony was not lost when, on the eve of the landfall of the strongest tropical cyclone to hit Earth this year, Philippine Disaster Undersecretary Ricardo Jalad appealed to media to help in disseminating information, saying some far-flung areas are only reached by radio.

Four months earlier, the House of Representatives killed the franchise of broadcast giant ABS-CBN, which forced the company to shut down its Regional Network Group (RNG) – leaving thousands jobless, and their audience worried for a situation precisely like Typhoon Rolly (Goni).

Before the franchise kill, ABS-CBN was the largest network in terms of reach. Now, ABS-CBN's radio station has also ceased to exist and the radio format program Teleradyo can now only be accessed online and on cable and digital TV.

ABS-CBN's blocktime shift to free TV A2Z channel does not include news programs yet, only entertainment. All these mean one less reliable news source during a typhoon.

Journalism professor Danilo Arao said while all media organizations will be on top of typhoon coverage, ABS-CBN's RNG leaves a big gap. ABS-CBN used to have 21 regional stations, with an estimated reach of 70 million viewers and listeners across the country.

"While we expect all news media organizations to provide the latest weather updates, I still maintain that ABS-CBN is sorely missed for one simple, four-word reason: All hands on deck," Arao said on Twitter.

"Those who claim that there still exists thousands of news media organizations conveniently forget the usefulness of the ABS-CBN Regional Network Group. Two words: Duterte legacy," said Arao.

In a statement on Monday, November 2, former vice president Jejomar Binay said "this experience should give use all a vital lesson."

"That political decisions, especially those intended to exact a steep price for criticisms of government policies and personalities or to redress a real or imagined personal insult, can have far-reaching and even tragic consequences on the lives of ordinary Filipinos," Binay said.

'Overcommunication saves lives'

ABS-CBN News used to have regional bureaus that broadcast news in local languages. That, too, was missing.

Former elections commissioner Goyo Larrazabal said on Twitter that "so many people are in the dark" because of ABS-CBN's shutdown.

When netizens pointed out that other news groups were also covering, Larrazabal said it was still "one additional way of information dissemination."

Public health expert Tony Leachon pointed out that there could never be too many source of information in a typhoon.

"In an unprecedented pandemic and flurry of typhoons , overcommunication is key. It saves lives!" Leachon said on Twitter, referring to ABS-CBN.

"We have a dearth of information coming from main media stations with the absence of a top broadcast station. We are missing the regional situationers of the development of the typhoon, hotlines for donations , and experts' opinions. Overcommunication saves lives," Leachon said.

'Only an enabler will deny'

Since the quarantine and the shutdown, ABS-CBN News has not aired news updates in the graveyard timeslot, reporter Anjo Bagaoisan said on Twitter.

But for the super typhoon coverage, their reporters were again back on graveyard programming, deployed in Metro Manila and key areas under strong signals, as the entire country waited at dawn for Rolly to make landfall.

It had been an anxious wait since Saturday as weather forecasters kept warning that the sunny day should not deter preparations for what would be a typhoon that would match Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

ABS-CBN Tacloban had been a key presence in the preparations and aftermath response of Yolanda's wrath in Leyte, but as anchor Ranulfo Docdocan compared, the shutdown was a worse disaster.

ABS-CBN Manila's Jacque Manabat said there was no storm stronger than the resolve of her regional colleagues to deliver the news, "kaso wala na sila (but they're not here anymore.)"

The effect of ABS-CBN's shutdown on the the impact of typhoon on Filipinos will probably have no specific tangible measure.

But Arao said: "Only an enabler of tyranny will deny this." – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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