Just three days ago we celebrated the World Press Freedom Day, recognizing the invaluable role played by the media in guarding our freedoms. Today, we face a dark, uncertain, and alarmingly familiar time as ABS-CBN, one of the country’s biggest media outlets, is ordered to cease and desist its operations.
The freedom of the press has been enshrined in the 1935, 1973 and 1987 Bill of Rights. 1 Its importance came to the fore after Martial Law – which, as we may remember– also shut down ABS-CBN. The press is a necessary tool to check government’s truthfulness, accountability, and safeguard against government oppression. Shutting down one of the largest media outlets relied upon by many is detrimental to Filipinos in constant need of information, especially now in the time of a pandemic. Moreover, shutting down ABS-CBN will deprive numerous producers, writers, reporters, camera crew, and other media workers working as frontliners, of their livelihood in today’s crisis.
The Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) expresses its indignation to the utter lack of good faith in NTC’s cease and desist order, but principally to the Legislative inaction on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal. While acknowledging that a franchise is a privilege, the exercise to grant such must not be weaponized to forward one’s political agenda. Applications for the network’s franchise renewal have been filed since 2016 and bills have been left pending since then. If there were indeed issues on the eligibility of ABS-CBN, enough time have already passed for these to be tackled in Congressional hearings.
The main purpose for requiring a franchise is to protect and safeguard the welfare of the people. It is also granted for the benefit of the public. The past attacks from the Executive department, which resulted to Legislative inaction, have done more harm than good to the public. Said inaction is now bound to cause the loss of more than 11,000 jobs and affect millions of Filipinos’ access to news, information, commentary, and entertainment—all in the middle of a global pandemic and economic crisis. Aside from being a travesty to the freedom of the press, the politicizing and weaponizing of the power to grant/renew a franchise have trifled with real, actual, human lives. This power should never be exercised to obtain political favor or economic gains.
AHRC calls on the Congress to exercise its duty in a manner that honors the Constitution. As our representatives, we ask you to put the people first—protect the freedom of the press and the people’s access to information. Swift actions must be taken to approve ABS-CBN’s franchise and restore its broadcast.
As the fourth pillar of our democracy continues to be challenged, we also call on the public to remain steadfast in holding on to our freedoms. The media has always served as the voice of the public. Today, as it is forced to keep silent, our collective voice is called to be at its loudest.
1 Phil. Const. Art 3, Sec 4.