MANILA, Philippines – The closure of ABS-CBN, as ordered by the National Telecommunications Commission, would only aggravate the labor problems caused by COVID-19 lockdown, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said on Tuesday.
CHR spokesperson Jacquline de Guia explained said the NTC order would have several negative effects — on the welfare of ABS-CBN workers, on the access to information amid a pandemic, and ultimately, on press freedom — in a country already battered by the current health crisis.
“At this point, we cannot stress enough how access to credible information is crucial in addressing the spread of COVID-19. With the station off the air, we lose another voice that people rely on for critical information on how to protect themselves and their loved ones from the ill-effects of the virus,” De Guia said.
“But with jobs affected due to their closure, the decision of the National Telecommunications Commission also aggravates the struggle for a source of living already experienced by the rest of the nation that came with lockdowns and quarantines,” she added.
Work — except for essential services — was suspended after the government enforced a lockdown on Luzon and other areas. This has left people who rely on daily earnings and those whose jobs cannot adjust to a work-from-home scheme without any income.
The CHR also highlighted the ironic shutdown of ABS-CBN on Tuesday, May 5, which came just two days after World Press Freedom Day, on May 3, and four days after Labor Day, on May 1.
“It is ironic that days after we commemorated Labor Day on May 1, workers of ABS-CBN now face the uncertainty of having no means to support themselves, their families, and even fellow Filipinos in this dire time,” De Guia said.
“On World Press Freedom Day, May 3, we also remembered how the press guards the truth, even all other freedoms we enjoy today. The information that media delivers to us every day allows every citizen to make critical decisions on their lives and enables them to demand better services, especially from the government,” she added.
Earlier, ABS-CBN ceased its free television and radio broadcasts in adherence to the NTC order. The network shut down despite assurance of the NTC to Congress that its broadcast would not be interrupted while its franchise renewal and the issues hounding it were being discussed at the House of Representatives.
CHR expressed alarm over the possible chilling effect of the shutdown on other media organizations. It urged the government to refrain from resolving the issue on the basis of politics, despite the network’s being identified to be critical of President Rodrigo Duterte.
While the administration claims to not having a hand in the issue, some observers say that Solicitor General Jose Calida was a factor in the NTC decision.
NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios said that broadcast companies could operate while their franchises were under Congress deliberation. But it was impossible to allow ABS-CBN to do so as there were questions on the validity of its franchise — which Calida raised in his quo warranto petition filed against the network at the Supreme Court.