NEW YORK – A new form of protest rally has blossomed, not on the streets, but the Internet. And it could yet be a powerful platform despite the COVID-19 pandemic to strengthen democracy and defend freedom of the press in the Philippines.
Malaya, a US-based movement against killings and dictatorship and for democracy in the Philippines, convened a May 6 online rally after ABS-CBN, one of the largest radio and television broadcast networks employing more than 11,000 people, was issued a cease and desist order with immediate effect by the government.
Ironically, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) order was released after World Press Freedom Day and ABS-CBN’s license to broadcast on a free-to-air TV and radio in the Philippines expired on May 4.
“Like a thief in the night, our ability to broadcast was shut down,” said Jun del Rosario, managing director of ABS-CBN Global, who spoke first. He said that their audience, particularly those impacted by the pandemic situation and rely on vital information have been deprived of that right.
Speakers from various states in the US and the Philippines denounced NTC’s action and hailed President Rodrigo Duterte’s strongarm tactics to silence his critics — the opposition and the media, particularly ABS-CBN. The president had a run-in with ABS-CBN during the 2016 elections accusing the media network of failing to air his campaign advertisements. The media conglomerate’s president, Carlo Katigbak had explained the circumstances behind the incident and apologized for what happened. The president accepted the apology.
Del Rosario assured subscribers that ABS-CBN, through its international subsidiaries and flagship channel, The Filipino Channel, around the world will remain and continue to deliver relevant news and information, TV shows, and movies across its different channels and platforms via cable and satellite, IPTV and TFC Online.
He also said that ABS-CBN’s employees including its talents will continue their employment for three months.
ABS-CBN was granted a franchise to operate for 25 years in March 1995, but Congress was unable to act on its renewal. There were at least 9 bills filed with Congress seeking ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal.
According to del Rosario, ABS-CBN has taken initiatives to help during this pandemic in the delivery of food to the poor in far-reaching areas. He believed that those in power wanted to “control the narrative of what’s going on.”
Anton Narciso III, national secretary, and media officer of the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) condemned the action taken by NTC against ABS-CBN. “It is not ECQ (Enhanced Community Quarantine) in place but militarization,” Narciso said. He deplored human rights violations and random arrests of journalists of which he was a victim himself. He was released from detention last Sunday, May 4, after he was caught doing relief operations.
Steven Raga, a board trustee of the NaFFAA (National Federation of Filipino American Associations in America), expressed the organization’s support for the employees of ABS-CBN and the renewal of its franchise. NaFFAA is seeking to obtain 1 Million signatures from its worldwide supporters through Change.org.
“The closure of a major media resource is a blow to press freedom and chokes off a major channel of information between Fil-Ams and their friends and family in the Philippines,” said Raga.
“The ABS-CBN shutdown by the NTC under President Duterte is the start of the death of democracy because press freedom is the essence — the sine qua non of a free government of a free society,” said Loida Nicolas Lewis, National Chair of U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance.
She compared President Duterte to Joseph Stalin of the former Soviet Union, Adolf Hitler of Germany, and Slobodan Milosevic of the former Yugoslavia who all shunned the truth when they ruled.
“He is not only killing poor people because of the drug war, but he is also a killer of democracy,” said Lewis. “President Duterte is only concerned about his power — I think President Duterte has lost all sense of humanity, may God have mercy on his soul.”
Nerve V. Macaspac, Ph.D., of Amnesty International and a professor of political science and global affairs, said that the “Duterte administration does not like the truth and conceals the truth.” He likened the work of journalists as front liners in their duty to report the truth. He also deplored the government’s crackdown against journalists and noted the death of 80 Filipino journalists who died in 2019.
Several activists from US-based organizations also spoke deploring President Duterte’s administration and calling on Filipinos to defend press freedom and say no to ABS-CBN’s shut down.