US ‘concerned’ over ABS-CBN’s fate; PH press remains free, says Palace | Inquirer News

US ‘concerned’ over ABS-CBN’s fate; PH press remains free, says Palace

WASHINGTON—The United States on Thursday voiced concern over the Philippine government-ordered shutdown of the country’s top broadcaster ABS-CBN, which has been targeted by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“We are concerned by the situation regarding ABS-CBN,” Department of State spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said.

“An independent media plays a critical role in facilitating the open exchange of information and ideas which is vital to free, prosperous and secure democratic societies,” she said.


Ortagus said that free media was especially vital in promoting public health amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.


“This is true for the United States, the Philippines, as well as countries around the world,” she said.

ABS-CBN was forced off the air over the stalled renewal of its operating license, which Mr. Duterte had repeatedly pledged to block.

Mr. Duterte had regularly assailed the media powerhouse, which he accuses of failing to air his ads during the 2016 presidential election despite accepting payment to do so.

CRITICAL MEDIA The US Department of State expressed concern over the shutdown of the Philippines’ largest broadcast network, reminding the country that an independent media was critical to a free and prosperous democracy. But presidential spokesperson Harry Roque says the Philippines continues to have a free and robust press, and critics and the opposition remain vocal. —NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

Palace assurance

Reacting to Ortagus’ statement, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said he “shares” her views.

“The Philippines, we assure our foreign friends and allies, continues to have a free and robust press where the critics and the political opposition remain vocal in their aversion to the current government,” Roque said in a statement on Friday.

Malacañang has been trying to distance itself from the order of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), which shut down the network on Tuesday, saying Mr. Duterte had no influence over the “quasi-judicial” agency.


Roque has maintained that Mr. Duterte is “neutral on the issue and he will leave the matter to the wisdom of our honorable ladies and gentlemen of both chambers of Congress” to decide on the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, which lapsed on Monday.

Affinity with Trump

The Philippines is a former colony and treaty ally of the United States but tensions have grown over Mr. Duterte’s signature policy of cracking down on drugs, a campaign in which police have killed thousands of people.

Mr. Duterte bristles at any foreign criticism and barred his Cabinet from visiting the United States after the Philippines’ former police chief said his US visa was canceled.

In February, Mr. Duterte also set in motion the process to withdraw from the Visiting Forces Agreement, a key part of the defense alliance.

Despite the rift, Mr. Duterte has found an affinity with President Donald Trump, who also frequently attacks mainstream media.

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Trump said ending the troop agreement would save the United States money and has praised the antidrug campaign, a sharp change from criticism by his predecessor Barack Obama. —AFP AND JULIE M. AURELIO

TAGS: ABS-CBN, Harry Roque, NTC, Palace, press freedom, shutdown

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