CHR, schools, media, lawyers’ groups slam ‘attack on democracy’
MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Wednesday decried the “chilling effect” of the ABS-CBN network shutdown on the freedom of expression and press freedom, saying that “political whims” should not decide the fate of any media entity.
“We echo our call that political whims should not dictate the fate of ABS-CBN, or any media network, that continues to be an important facet of our democracy. Any alleged violations should be dealt in accordance with the law,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said in a statement.
On Monday, the broadcast giant went off the air after receiving a cease-and-desist order from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) following the expiration of its legislative franchise. The NTC had earlier assured lawmakers that it would grant ABS-CBN provisional authority to operate while they deliberated on the franchise renewal.
Law groups lent the NTC the legal backbone to “do the right thing” by allowing ABS-CBN to operate provisionally during the congressional discussion.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), the mandatory organization for lawyers, said “basic fairness and the greater common good” should balance the NTC’s insistence that ABS-CBN should automatically stop broadcasting without a renewed franchise.
“The rule of law is not a technical tool that people in power wield at their passion or discretion,” the IBP said in a statement signed by its 10 top officials led by national president Domingo Cayosa.
The Free Legal Assistance Group said the commission undermined public interest at the height of the COVID-19 crisis, and that its order “reflects a distorted sense of priorities that is inimical to the public interest.”
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) denounced the shutdown order as “a deplorable assault on free press that further reveals that this administration is more interested in restricting basic freedoms than in containing a pandemic.”
Another voice lost
De Guia said ABS-CBN’s closure was a huge loss to the Filipino public, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic. “With the station off the air, we lose another voice that people rely on for critical information on how to protect themselves and their loved ones from the ill-effects of the virus,” she said.
Educational institutions also condemned the closure of the network, with one group of faculty members calling it a “declaration of war” and a move done only by dictators.
“Now that ABS-CBN is out of the airwaves, and for the second time since martial law, there is no more denying that the Duterte regime will stop at nothing—even amid a national emergency and a crippling lockdown—to crush dissent and stifle a free and independent media,” the journalism faculty of the University of Santo Tomas said in a statement.
The University of the Philippines’ College of Mass Communications said: “The current administration demonstrates the lengths it will go to silence media voices.”
“As we continue to battle this health crisis, we need a free press to serve as a faithful chronicler of events, a platform for the diversity of voices to be heard, and more importantly, the public’s watchdog of inept, abusive and corrupt governance,” said a college statement.
Ateneo de Manila University’s Department of Communications said the shutdown of the network was “an attack on democracy” and “deprives citizens of a platform for the … expression of society’s diverse voices.”
Journalists and groups in Iloilo and Bacolod cities have joined calls denouncing the NTC order, posting statements in support of ABS-CBN on social media. Others changed their profile pictures into the logo of the television network.
Among the groups were the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas and the Iloilo chapter of the National Union of Journalists.
The Iloilo-based Daily Guardian changed its logo to the red, green, black and blue colors of ABS-CBN. “DailyGuardian stands for press freedom. #NOTOABSCBNSHUTDOWN,” read the newspaper’s Facebook cover photo.
—REPORTS FROM PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU, DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN, NESTOR P. BURGOS AND DELFIN T. MALLARI JR.
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