The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) on Tuesday called the closure order on broadcast network ABS-CBN “an underhanded assault on freedom of the press and of expression.”
Militant and labor groups also joined in condemning the government for the cease and desist order (CDO) issued by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).
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The Duterte administration carried out the “dastardly move” even as Filipinos battled the deadly coronavirus pandemic, “and two days after we observed World Press Freedom Day,” the NUJP said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
It also noted that the CDO came a day after Solicitor General Jose Calida warned the NTC of graft charges should it allow the network to operate beyond the expiration of its franchise on May 4.
House Assistant Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, speaking for militant groups, condemned “in the strongest terms” the order.
“It already has all the legal and historical grounds to issue a provisional permit yet it chooses to shut it down,” Castro said.
Labor group Defend Jobs Philippines (DJP) slammed the CDO, saying the order “will never be acceptable, especially in this time of the health crisis.”
“NTC’s cease and desist order against the Kapamilya network is a clear betrayal to the station’s more than 11,000 workers and their families. The NTC and the national government are moving like thieves in the night while the station, its workers and the public are busy in facing the pandemic,” DJP spokesperson Thadeus Ifurung said.
Human Rights Watch called on the NTC to rescind its order, as it viewed the turn of events “with deep concern, coming as it did on the heels of efforts by the Duterte administration to intimidate and muzzle the Philippine press.”
“This also comes at the worst possible time, when the Covid19 pandemic is ravaging countries like the Philippines and when accurate and truthful information is needed crucially,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
Robertson also said the Solicitor General “should stop acting like Duterte’s attack dog.”
“The Philippine Congress, which earlier agree to consider an extension of the franchise, should assert its mandate and authority over matters like this. The Filipino people should reject this despotic move to harass and silence a media organization known not only for its reach but also for its competence and dedication to deliver the news,” he added.
The labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno also called on the NTC to withdraw its order, and asked Congress to immediately renew the giant network’s franchise.
“We have long called for the continued operations of ABS-CBN Network” said KMU Secretary-General Jerome Adonis said.
“There is no reason for Congress not to renew its franchise, as much as there is no need for NTC to force the network into a shutdown. We are talking about a huge platform of press freedom, a valuable source of information especially now that the whole world is confronting a pandemic,” he added.
READ: Statement on the Cease and Desist order issued by the NTC to ABS-CBN
The NUJP said the move “stems from President Rodrigo Duterte’s personal vendetta against the network, whose franchise renewal he pledged to block.”
“No matter that this is a slap on Congress, which has the sovereign power to decide on matters of franchise and which explicitly asked the NTC to allow ABS-CBN to continue operating while it deliberates the bills to renew the network’s franchise,” the journalists' group noted.
It also doesn't matter, the group added, that the closure of a major media network “would deprive our people of a major source of information at a time when information could spell life and death as we battle the pandemic.”
“It sends a clear message: What Duterte wants, Duterte gets. And it is clear, with this brazen move to shut down ABS-CBN, that he intends to silence the critical media and intimidate everyone else into submission,” it added.
But just as the independent press “survived and triumphed with the people over the Marcos dictatorship,” NUJP said they are certain “that we shall do so again, that this regime that has run roughshod over our laws and disregarded our basic rights and liberties will not succeed.”
“We call on the community of independent Filipino journalists and on all Filipinos who cherish democracy and liberty to stand together and resist this government’s brazen assault on freedom of the press and of expression,” it said.
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