ABS-CBN closure: An attack on citizen rights

Co-authored with Joy Reyes

Filipino translation

The shutdown of ABS-CBN also merits a discussion on broader rights beyond the rights of the owners and workers of the network. Foremost of which is the freedom of the press, which is enshrined in the Constitution. Section 4, Article III of the Constitution provides that “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

As Chief Justice Puno’s once proclaimed: “The constitutional protection assures the broadest possible exercise of free speech and free press for religious, political, economic, scientific, news, or informational ends, inasmuch as the Constitution’s basic guarantee of freedom to advocate ideas is not confined to the expression of ideas that are conventional or shared by a majority. The constitutional protection is not limited to the exposition of ideas. The protection afforded free speech extends to speech or publications that are entertaining as well as instructive or informative.”

It is clear that the attack on ABS-CBN is because of its perceived independence. Any objective review of the network’s public affairs broadcasting would affirm that there is no political agenda behind its reports and shows. I would even point to some of the network’s top anchors as quite sympathetic to the current administration even as it also broadcast critical reports on failure of government.

The closure of ABS-CBN is a warning to all other media organizations. You are next. We will come after you. Thankfully, most journalists and media organizations, including the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and the Kapisanan ng mga Broadcasters ng Pilipinas (KBP), have rallied around the network. Likewise,  lawyers’ groups like the Free Legal Assistance Group and the Nationakl Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and human rights organizations like Karapatan have also issued  strong statements.

This action by the Duterte government is especially harmful and particularly anti-poor during this time of the coronavirus pandemic.  ABS-CBN’s TV and radio stations have been two of the main sources of information and entertainment of millions of Filipinos, many of whom live in far flung areas, and a greater number of which do not have access to the internet or cable TV, and so would not have access to alternative news and current affairs. Many overseas Filipinos also rely on ABS-CBN for its main news. Those with cable and access can still access some of the content of the network but the poor do not have that option. Therefore, to shut down the network is also to curtail the right of the Filipino people to information and entertainment.

Finally, the closure of ABS-CBN threatens the jobs of its workers. And for artists – the creatives, the directors, writers, actors and actresses, etc., their freedom of expression has also been taken away from them.

Lawyers and laws students frequently quote “Dura lex sed lex”, i.e, you implement the law regardless of who gets hurt. That’s a Roman legal maxim, formed in ancient times, that in inapplicable in modern times when there is no such thing as hard law that cannot be bent to achieve justice and violates fundamental rights.

Rapid approval of renewed franchise

It took Congress and the President three days to enact the Bayanihan to Heal Act. That was a much more complicated bill, involving billions of pesos and the whole government. A legislative franchise is a simple piece of legislation. One hearing is enough to hear the issues, a plenary session can follow after that for proper debate and amendment, and shortly after the bill can go on third reading for approval by the House. The Senate has already done its job, with the Public Service Committee led by Senator Grace Poe having conducted hearings. It can approve this bill in less than a week. A bicameral conference committee is usually not necessary for this kind of legislation.

If two Houses of Congress act expeditiously, by the end of this month, May 2020, they can save eleven thousand jobs and ensure press freedom, freedom of expression of artists, and the rights of the people to information and entertainment.

The President may of course veto the bill. But at least he alone is responsible. Today, it’s Duterte and the leaders of the House of Representatives that stand accused of shutting down ABS-CBN.

When ABS-CBN signed off on Tuesday, people recall that this was the second time the network had been closed down by the government. The first time was on the early morning of September 23, 1972 right after Marcos proclaimed martial law. That closure was unceremonious and done with the military physically closing down the studios.

The reasons for today’s closure are as arbitrary as the Marcos actions. But at least, this time, there was an opportunity for the anchors of the network to bid farewell. And to promise ABS-CBN will be back.

It will be back, and no thanks to the politicians.

ABS-CBN will be back, and soon, because it has the support of the people.


Visit this website to access the article.

Part 1 of the article may be accessed here.

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