“Kung mawala ang ABS-CBN, mawala pud mi diri”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 01 March) –  Across the road from the ABS-CBN’s Channel 4 station here, owners of eateries and stores are as worried as the employees of the company who will lose their jobs if ABS-CBN network’s franchise is not renewed by May 4.

On this Friday afternoon, February 28, they saw employees wearing white walk to the nearby Shrine of the Holy Infant Jesus of Prague for the 4 p.m. mass, saw them walk again back to the station at 5 p.m. Shortly thereafter, a group arrived and staged a rally and candle-lighting outside the station’s compound in support of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal and in defense of press freedom while employees inside the compound gathered at 6 p.m. at the parking lot fronting the lobby as the priest who was going to tape for Sunday’s televised mass, led a prayer and candle-lighting.

ABS-CBN Channel 4 Davao employees led by station manager Cristie Navacilla-Garcia during the offertory of the February 28, 2019 mass at the Shrine of the Holy Infant Jesus of Prague. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Baffled by this series of  activities, storeowner Perlita Lopera turned to MindaNews and asked, “Masarad-an na gyud ang ABS?” (will ABS really shut down?)

A few stores away, while attending to the barbecue he was cooking outside his carinderia, Rico Sarucam said he is equally worried as the employees because “mawad-an mig customer” (we will lose our customers).

“Mawala ang ABS, mawala pud mi diri” (If ABS shuts down, we’ll also shut down), he told MindaNews.

Rico Sarucam, owner of an eatery across Channel 4 Davao on Shrine Hills, Matina, is as worried as employees of the network. IF ABS-CBN shuts down, he says, they will lose customers and will also shut down. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Beleaguered employees of ABS-CBN here prayed for the network, for President Rodrigo Duterte and other government officials and for the Filipino people during the mass “so we can continue to be  of service to the Filipino.”

While mayor of this city, Duterte was a “Kapamilya” (ABS-CBN is known as the Kapamilya or Family network) himself from 1998 to 2015 as his Sunday television program was aired on Channel 4 and simultaneously aired over radio station DXAB (see other story: “Once upon a time, Duterte was a ‘Kapamilya’ star”).

“As one family,” according to the prayer petition read during the mass, “we pray for ABS-CBN Network, so we can continue to be of service to the Filipino.”

“We also pray for ABS-CBN Management and its employees, the President, Senate, (House of Representatives), Supreme Court, and other government agencies, and the Filipino people, that God will work in the hearts of everyone, that understanding, enlightenment, fairness, reason and benevolence will rule over division, anger and pride,” it added.

Defend Press Freedom

On the roadside outside the compound, a group spearheaded by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) Davao City chapter carried tarpaulins and papers with these messages: “We stand with ABS-CBN,” “Defend Press Freedom,” “Yes to ABS-CBN franchise renewal,” “No to ABS-CBN shutdown,” “Stop the attacks against the media,” “Defend people’s rights,” “Ipaglaban ang Kalayaan sa pamamahayag.”

“Defend press freedom,” Kath Cortez, Secretary-General of the National Union of Journalists of teh Philippines (NUJP) says at the rally on Friday, February 28, 2019 outside the ABS-CBN compound in Davao City. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Kath Cortez, NUJP Davao Secretary-General said candle-lighting activities were held simultaneously in the ABS-CBN stations in Cagayan de Oro, Davao, General Santos, Surigao and Zamboanga in Mindanao –  and in other parts of the country, including the main headquarters of the network in Quezon City.

“We need to pressure government and politicians to consider the job security of our colleagues in ABS-CBN,” she said in Cebuano.

The network has 11,000 workers nationwide. The Davao City station has at least a hundred workers, according to station manager Cristie Navacilla-Garcia.

A group led by the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines hold a rally outside the ABS-CBN compound in Davao City on 28 February 2020 to lend their support for the renewal of the network’s franchise and to defend press freedom. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Cortez added that aside from loss of jobs, press freedom is endangered because if ABS-CBN, “a media outfit number one in terms of giving info to the public” is shut down, “unsay mahimong nawong aning (what will be the face of) freedom of the press or freedom of expression?”

She warned that what is happening to ABS-CBN could happen to smaller companies and the community media.

More prayers

Employees have been praying daily for President Duterte, the ABS-CBN Management, the Supreme Court, the House of Representatives, Senate, for themselves and for the nation

They pray for Duterte’s “understanding and enlightenment, that he will lead the country with integrity, righteousness and reconciliation,” also for “fairness and reason.”

ABS-CBN employees in Davao City getting ready for the start of their community prayer for the renewal of their franchise while their supporters hold a rally outside their compound on 28 February 2020. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

“We pray for benevolence to rule the hearts, and we pray that you move the President’s heart,” the prayer says.

During the Senate hearing on February 24, Senator Christopher Lawrence Go, long-time executive assistant of  Duterte, said “Hindi mababaw ang rason ng Pangulo sa kanyang grievances against the network. Nasaktan ang Presidente. Nababoy ang Presidente” (The reason behind the Presidents’ grievances against the network is not shallow. The President was hurt. The President felt debased).

Duterte had earlier complained that the network did not air his ads in the 2016 election but gave airtime for an ad against him paid for by then Vice Presidential candidate Antonio Trillanes. “Black propaganda,” said Go, who played the controversial ad at the hearing.

Apology accepted

Carlo Katigbak, ABS-CBN President and Chief Executive Officer, explained that all of Duterte’s 117-million peso worth of  national ads were aired but not all of the 65-million peso regional ads.  He said they returned 4 million pesos to Duterte which he accepted and another 2.6 million which the President did not accept.

“We’re sorry if we offended the President. That was not the intention of the network. We felt we were just abiding by the laws and regulations that surround the airing of a political ad,” Katigbak said.

Duterte accepted the public apology on February 26, said ABS-CBN can donate the money to charity, but added that renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN rests in the House of Representatives “and I am not going to interfere.”

On February 27, ABS-CBN reported that Davao City Mayor  Sara, daughter of the President, said in a chance interview in Sulu that “Davao City fully supports ABS-CBN sa kanilang pagpapa-renew ng kanilang franchise. Of course malaki din ang suporta ng ABS-CBN sa Davao City at sa buong bansa.”

“Hopefully ma-resolve in a very positive way ang issue ng franchise ng ABS-CBN,” she added.

At the Senate hearing on February 24, officials from the National Telecommunications Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission, Bureau of Internal Revenue, and Department of Labor and Employment said ABS-CBN committed no violations and paid its taxes regularly.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez on February 25 told ANC that  the basis for the quo warranto petition filed on February 10 by Solicitor General Jose Calida for the cancellation of ABS-CBN’s franchise  “were all debunked” by officials who testified at the Senate that the network did not commit any violation.

Congress has only seven session days before ABS-CBN’s franchise expires on May 4:  March 2,3,4,  9, 10 and 11, and May 3, when it resumes sessions.

As of February 28, the House has yet to hear any of the 14 bills on the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)