journalism in the Philippines

[OPINION] Moving forward from ABS-CBN to Rappler

Nick Villavecer
[OPINION] Moving forward from ABS-CBN to Rappler
'I tried to hold back my tears as our HR personnel read my letter of separation from the network'

It is past 10 pm on Monday, and I’m scrolling through my phone’s photo gallery while waiting for Rappler’s evening newscast to be edited. I’m just 3 months into my new job, which I enjoy, but sometimes I can’t help but think, “What if things turned out the way I wanted them to in the beginning of the year?”

In my gallery’s January folder, I see photos of me filming an interview somewhere in Pampanga for a story that will later air on ABS-CBN. Then there are a few selfies with my officemates in our tiny cubicle, our background a clutter of props, bags, and a stack of papers pinned behind a computer monitor. We look pretty unaware that in 12 months, the office will become nothing but a hauntingly empty floor.

In February up to July, my gallery reminds me of the battles I and other ABS-CBN employees fought just to keep our jobs. I see photos and videos of protests that I attended almost weekly. I remember being defiant and hopeful as I marched around the ABS-CBN compound along with thousands of other employees. I remember drowning in the noise of protesting workers and honks from passing vehicles. I remember the outpouring of support nationwide – the private messages from strangers telling me, “Fight! We are here for you.”

For more than half of the year, we anxiously clung to the hope that Congress would approve the network’s franchise, that we were going to keep our jobs, and that just like in teleseryes, it was going to be a happy ending for everyone.

But we all know it wasn’t the ending we’d hoped. The House of Representatives eventually denied ABS-CBN a fresh franchise, and as a consequence, thousands of us lost our jobs.

I remember the day I was in the dreaded Zoom call with my executive producer and our program unit head. I tried to hold back my tears as our HR personnel read my letter of separation from the network. Of course I knew what the online meeting was all about. We’d been warned. But boy, was I not ready for the emotions that came after. I hadn’t cried in years, but that moment really broke my heart into shards.

Not only did the pandemic rob us of the opportunity to hug and comfort each other in person, it also made our situation worse. It felt like we did not deserve the consequences of a Congress decision that sprung from a madman’s threat.

In a speech on December 3, 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to block ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal.  “Ikaw ABS-CBN, if you’re expecting na ma-renew ‘yan, I’m sorry. I will see to it that you’re out,” he quipped.

While Malacañang continues to deny it had a hand in the denial of the network’s franchise, it is clear as day that the old man’s influence helped lawmakers come up with a vote that would hamper ABS-CBN’s radio and TV operations. It’s all there on record.

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And then it happened. We were let go, and many of us had to face unemployment in the middle of a pandemic. We had to move forward in separate ways, and that was the difficult part. 

Luckily, in September, Rappler hired me as one of its producers. I’m familiar with Rappler’s history of charges and threats by the same government that wanted my previous employer shut. I take comfort in knowing that I was welcomed to a newsroom, although virtual, that is as brave to stand up to the powers that be.

And in just 3 months, I’ve handled exciting projects that I am proud of. I met and interviewed prominent personalities in journalism, including Rappler’s CEO Maria Ressa, who is now essentially my boss, whose bravery and passion inspire the team to hold the line. (Never in my entire life had I expected that my first meeting with Maria, whom I consider a journalism legend, would be a one-on-one on-cam interview about a topic close to our hearts: press freedom. But life has a funny way of surprising us.)

Things didn’t turn out the way I’d wanted them to when the year began. Apparently, the universe had a different plan for me, and I have begun to accept whatever has fallen onto my lap. I’m just thankful I have a new job. 

It has been a smooth ride so far. There are adjustments of course, and I’m still navigating the online territory where Rappler thrives as an organization. And hey, I’m learning a lot despite the remote setup. Rappler and ABS-CBN may be different platforms, but they have the same courage that bites. And for me, they are both home. – Rappler.com