Former Vice President Jejomar Binay on Wednesday said the damage inflicted by last year’s closure of ABS-CBN can never be repaired unless the media giant will be allowed to reopen.
“But we cannot expect legislators who served as the network’s executioners to perform such an act that would sanitize their conscience,” he said.
Binay said even in the midst of pandemic, there are those in positions of power who see opportunities to pursue a clearly political project, confident that the existing state of affairs will preclude any expression of outrage outside the realm of social media.
“But by doing so, they have deprived millions of Filipinos who rely solely on free television, particularly those in the provinces, of access to news and information from which they make vital and sometimes life-saving decisions. That is on the conscience of the network’s executioners,” he added.
Meanwhile, a group of journalists said Wednesday ABS-CBN Corp. was “never silenced” even a year after it was forced to shut down operations by the government.
The shutdown of the country’s largest broadcasting company displaced thousands of workers, including those in its regional network, and “denied millions access to news and information” during the pandemic, said the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
It added that the network’s closure contributed to the Philippines’ decline on the World Press Freedom Index and “has drawn comparisons to Marcos’ martial law.”
Binay, a human rights lawyer, said it has been argued that the network’s closure does not constitute a violation of the Constitution.
“This is not correct. Section 4 of the Bill of Rights which assures and protects freedom of expression, and according to the late constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas Jr., freedom of expression provides two guarantees: a prohibition on prior restraint and a prohibition on subsequent punishment. From this viewpoint, the closure of ABS-CBN can be seen as a form of subsequent punishment,” he said.
The former vice president said ABS-CBN has been made to pay severely for news reports and commentaries criticizing government policies, agencies, and personalities.
He said the network was shut down because of a perceived personal slight.
“And the final blow was delivered by a former House leadership that can only be described as submissive and spineless. With this act of obeisance, the House has become complicit in the assault on freedom of expression and the Constitution.”
“As I have said before, the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression - press freedom in particular - takes precedence over the hurt feeling of elected officials. In the case of ABS-CBN, the pursuit of a personal agenda carried with it grave political, social, cultural, and Constitutional repercussions.”
ABS-CBN shut down its operations following the expiration of its legislative franchise on May 4, 2020. More than 10,000 workers lost their jobs after the House of Representatives denied the renewal of its franchise.
“Throughout all this and despite continued attacks and online harassment, ABS-CBN and its courageous journalists have continued to report over the internet and have remained constant companions in dealing with what has become the ‘new normal,’” NUJP said.
“We commend the Kapamilyas who have refused to be cowed into silence...We stand with them today in the hope—the certainty—that ABS-CBN will be back on air and will continue the vital work that it has been doing to inform as well as entertain in the service of the Filipino.”
In July, a House committee, a majority of which were composed of President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies, voted to deny the network a fresh franchise. It followed two months since its free TV and radio broadcast were shuttered at the lapse of its franchise.
“We refuse to forget how Malacañang wielded the state machinery to clamp down on one of the biggest media outlets in the country. We will not forget all those who were instrumental in this wanton violation of press freedom,” it said.
“More than anything, the closure of ABS-CBN proves how the tyrant fears truth-tellers.”