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‘A setback at a time when country needs to be united’

MANILA, Philippines —Businessmen, Catholic church leaders and several framers of the 1987 Constitution on Wednesday opposed the forced closure of ABS-CBN television and radio stations nationwide, saying it was both ill-timed and a threat to press freedom.

The cease-and-desist order to the network by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) had shaken the nation and raised questions about the government’s priorities during the national health emergency caused by the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), they said.

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The NTC had earlier promised lawmakers it would grant a provisional authority to ABS-CBN to allow it to continue its operations while its franchise renewal bill was pending in Congress. The 25-year franchise expired on Monday.

“It’s a sad day for media freedom and the thousands of people and their families who will be adversely affected by the closure of ABS-CBN,” said Francisco Lim, president of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP).

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Blow to press freedom

MAP has over 1,000 members representing a cross-section of CEOs, COOs and other top managers of the largest local and multinational companies in the country.

“We, in the Management Association of the Philippines, had fervently hoped that this day would never come as we, together with other business organizations, strongly urged Congress to consider in a timely and judicious manner the renewal of ABS-CBN’s broadcasting franchise,” Lim said.

In a joint statement, MAP, Makati Business Club, Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development and Shareholders’ Association of the Philippines Inc. said they were concerned that the NTC’s move “will be a blow to press freedom, which is a pillar of democratic societies such as ours.”

Bishops’ lament

“It is also a setback at a time when the country needs to be united against the pandemic. Now more than ever, everyone should be working together on the singular goal of helping each other through this crisis,” they added.

San Carlos Bishop Gerardo Alminaza also lamented the timing of the NTC decision as the country was “struggling to cope” with the effects of the pandemic on the people, especially workers.

Plight of workers

“Whatever legal issues there might be in this case, a remedy should be sought that will not further aggravate the plight of thousands of workers that will be added to the growing number of Filipino gravely affected by this pandemic,” he said.

During the national health emergency, ABS-CBN is a valuable source of information, “especially also now [with] the proliferation of fake news, unreliable stories,” according to Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos.

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Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas stressed that “freedom of the press is needed in a democracy” where the government “should be ready to listen to criticisms or remarks that may be contrary to its views but meant to improve its governance.”

“Do not be afraid to criticize,” he told the network, “but do it always for the common good and based on truth.”

‘Worst time’

In a statement, four members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission — Ed Garcia, Florangel Rosario Braid, Christian Monsod and Felicitas Arroyo — said the NTC order came “at the worst time.”

“It comes at a time when we are trying to contain a contagion that has brought our nation down on its knees. Never before did our country need to unify all our citizens where communication is crucial, and unimpeded independent media is vital,” they said.

The network, which they said had the widest reach in the country, has been helping inform and mobilize Filipinos against the coronavirus.

The NTC’s action was contrary to a key provision in the Constitution that said the state “shall provide the policy environment” for “communication structures suitable to the needs of the nation and the balanced flow of information … across the country.”

“We call on the courage our people have shown in the past against repressive rule to express themselves again for the common good,” they said.

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TAGS: ABS-CBN closure backlash, ABS-CBN franchise, Management Association of the Philippines, NTC, press freedom
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