MANILA — Exactly a year ago, a House committee dominated by allies of President Rodrigo Duterte killed the franchise application of the country’s then-largest media network, in what critics say was a tightening of the noose around press freedom.
Booted out of free television and radio, ABS-CBN Corp. was forced to slash around half of its workforce at a time when millions were unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The media giant also shuttered its regional stations which millions in the provinces depended on for news and entertainment.
Three in 4 respondents in a Social Weather Stations survey in July 2020 said Congress should renew ABS-CBN’s franchise.
Following the franchise rejection, 65 percent of respondents in a separate poll agreed it was “dangerous” to print or broadcast anything critical of the administration, “even if it is the truth,” said SWS.
But will their vote matter when the Filipino electorate chooses their leaders in the 2022 elections?
“Whether or not that would figure in terms of the election outcome would depend on who your voters are,” said media law and ethics expert Marichu Lambino.
Tech-savvy younger voters, who have more access to information and are less gullible to online trolling, can cause a change in government, Lambino told ABS-CBN News.
“The possible number of new voters could spell the difference between who will be voted and who will be voted out,” she said.
Lambino said what voters “should keep in mind is never again install an administration on the basis of names or on the basis of name recall, but remember everything.”
“Remember all the lives and all the freedoms that we lost during the pandemic, most of which could have been prevented, if the incumbent administration had the competence and the required respect for life and for freedoms,” she said.
The July 10, 2020 House panel vote against ABS-CBN’s fresh franchise was a fruition of President Rodrigo Duterte’s oft repeated threats against the network.
Duterte early in his term accused ABS-CBN of failing to air his 2016 campaign adverts and not returning the payments, and singled the network out for ire in his speeches.
Almost a year later, it seems the President’s sentiment has not changed. On July 1, an ABS-CBN reporter asked him of his potential vice presidential run.
“You are from ABS-CBN?” he asked the reporter. “So ABS-CBN is expecting me to lose because they will campaign against me?”
The reporter replied, “No, sir… I’m just following up a story.”
For Lambino, this exchange shows Duterte’s “strong bias against ABS-CBN, which had been the underlying motive for him and his allies in the House to campaign for and eventually shut down ABS-CBN and deny it of its franchise.”
“Aside from all the pronouncements he made na ipapasara niya (what he said that he will close it down) or he will cause the shutdown of ABS-CBN, what he said finally laid down, finally clinched it, that up to now, when millions have died all over the world… he’s still thinking of his relationship with ABS-CBN,” said Lambino.
“You can still see that he is driven by vengeful wrath against any entity that is not supportive of him, which is anathema to a constitutional democracy.”
Duterte’s aides deny he had a hand in ABS-CBN’s woes. They say the franchise rejection was the sole prerogative of lawmakers.
However, just days after the its franchise rejection, Duterte said in a speech the network disrespected him and that he has supposedly succeeded in ending oligarchy “without declaring martial law.”
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