ABS-CBN’s chroniclers of Mindanao history hope goodbye is not forever (2)

Last of two parts

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 31 August) –  Sociology Professor Mario Aguja of the Mindanao State University in General Santos City explained in an interview aired during the final episode of ABS-CBN South Central Mindanao last Friday, that the contribution and influence of ABS-CBN in news, public service and entertainment is “mahirap sukatin” (difficult to measure) because it has served generations of Filipinos.

Aguja said the network captured a huge audience share by knowing what they want and giving it to them.  “So  kahit saan ka sa Pilipinas, meron kang mga lugar na naabot ng ABS-CBN na hindi naaabot ng gobyerno” (ABS-CBN’s programs have penetrated areas in the Philippines that government could not reach).

Prof. Hadji Balajadia, who teaches Social Psychology and Filipino Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University told MindaNews that during this pandemic, “the regional TV network could have been the most efficient social infrastructure available for the State to roll out two salient campaigns for the Department of Education and Department of Health – the  DepEd’s Learning Delivery Modalities for School Year 2020-2021, and the DOH’s public health education campaign.”

“After all, ABS CBN Regional network holds the widest reach in the country. Also, what these regional networks can offer in terms of health education cannot be overstated. Campaign ads could have been extensively cascaded, even in vernacular forms to raise COVID-19 consciousness.”

Reaching even parts of Visayas

ABS-CBN’ in Mindanao can even reach parts of the Visayas.

ABS-CBN North Mindanao’s programs, for example, can be viewed not only in Cagayan de Oro and Misamis Oriental towns but also n areas as far as Sarangani province in southwestern Mindanao, Buda (Bukidnon-Davao boundary), Central Mindanao, parts of  Davao de Oro in southeastern Mindanao, Agusan del Sur and Agusan del Norte in northeastern Mindanao, Pagadian in Zamboanga del Sur and Dipolog in Zamboanga del Norte in western Mindanao, and in the Visayas, parts of Siquijor, Bohol and Negros, according to News Chief Prospero Jean Dela Pena.

MIndanao and parts of Visayas. Map courtesy of Google Maps

Outside Zamboanga City, ABS-CBN Zamboanga’s TV programs can be viewed in mainland Basilan. “For FM, we can also be heard in Basilan and some parts of Zamboanga Sibugay, Sur and Norte,” News Chief Queenie Casimiro said.

ABS-CBN Southern Mindanao TV can be viewed not only in Davao City but also in the five Davao provinces – de Oro, del Norte, del Sur, Occidental and Oriental – and parts of Sarangani province and Bukidnon, according to News Chief Francis Magbanua.

ABS-CBN South Central Mindanao is seen not only in General  Santos or Cotabato cities but in Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and in the provinces of  South Cotabato, Sarangani, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

“Anti-poor, Anti-Mindanao”

Aside from news,  the network also provide entertainment through its variety shows and telenovelas.

Antonio La Vina of Cagayan de Oro, a former Dean of the Ateneo de Manila’s School of Government and professor of Constitutional law in several schools in Manila and Mindanao, in May wrote that ABS-CBN’s closure is “anti-poor and anti-Mindanao.”

“In far-flung and poorer sitios and barangays of Mindanao where internet connectivity may not be as extensive as in other parts of the country, these ABS-CBN stations are the only source of reliable information and entertainment. Whichever way you look at it, the ABS-CBN franchise debacle impacts the poor more than any other social class,” he said.

Anthropologist Eizel Hilario, who hails from Bukidnon, recalls that while working with the Redemptorist Mission Team in the mountains of Kulaman, Senator Ninoy Aquino town in Sultan Kudarat province, ABS-CBN played a key role in the communities.  “It’s the network with the most malakas na signal, both TV and radio.  And it was for free.  It was where we got our news — from the moves to amend the  Constitution, to El Niño, and the extent of rat infestation in 2005. It was from these information that the communities mobilized action.”

When access to free TV was cut off on May 5 after the network signed off at the end of TV Patrol,  access to news and entertainment was also denied Mindanawons living in areas where ABS-CBN was its only source. In a town in Davao del Norte, and in other towns elsewhere, a number of residents had their TV antennas fixed, only to find out much later that their “Kapamilya”  was off the air.

For residents in these areas, staying home as government officials mandated,  was made even more difficult with nothing to watch on their television screens and although going online or watching via cable television had become an option, not all areas have access to the internet or to cable TV.

In areas where internet connection is available, one has to shell out cash to be able to access what used to be free shows like the long-running “Ang Probinsyano”

But getting the loyalty of its “Kapamilya” followers has not just been through news and entertainment “in the service of the Filipino” but also through its public service activities.

Public Service Activities

All ABS-CBN stations in Mindanao have their respective public service activities.

ABS-CBN Zamboanga has monthly public service activities that includes an Outreach Program, Blood Donation, Anti-Rabies Campaign, Oplan Tuli (Circumcision), Trabaho Patrol, Brigada Escuela, PWD week, Kalusugan Patrol, Soup Kitchen and relief operations whenever there are victims of flood or fire, Casimiro said.

The station also provides free water in cemeteries every November 1 and has a Love Drive in December. “Most of these activities are not budgeted. So the staff contributes so we can buy slippers, school supplies, other goods and prizes for the games. We do not solicit. And we usually choose far-flung areas where our assistance would be needed. We also feature clients of Bantay Bata in TV Patrol Chavacano, especially those in need of medical assistance,” Casimiro added.

ABS-CBN North Mindanao has Dugong Kapamilya, a bloodletting twice a year; Trabaho Kapamilya, a job fair also done twice a year; Hustisya Patrol, an annual free legal service for the community; and Grand Serbisyo Patrol which brings medical/dental missions to communities including a one-stop shop for government agencies, Dela Pena said. The station’s personnel also adopts a school for clean-up during the annual Brigada Eskwela.

Dental Health Lecture for streetkids from Tahanan ng Kabataan in Cagayan de Oro CIty. Photo courtesy of ABS-CBN North Mindanao

ABS-CBN Southern Mindanao in Davao City also has Dugong Kapamilya, a twice-a-year bloodletting; twice-a year Trabaho Patrol; Hustisya Patrol, an annual free legal service of the community. It also has Green Patrol, a tree-planting activity every year; Halad Kapamilya which brings medical/dental missions to communities and a one stop shop for government agencies;  and its personnel also adopts a school for clean-up every Brigada Eskwela.

ABS-CBN South Central Mindanao has similar programs.

When wars, disasters or mass evacuations happen, it is not just the news team that goes on field. A team from Lingkod Kapamilya or News Public Service follows to attend to the needs of the evacuees.

Bashers and Supporters

In the long wait for the network’s franchise renewal, Casimiro said they experienced having “a lot of bashers … some of them we thought were our friends.”

“But we have also been receiving messages of support. A teacher from Basilan prepared a cake with the logo of ABS-CBN. A resident from Mampang tied red, green and blue ribbons at his gate. A senior citizen sent a video message of support with a prayer that we will be back on air soon. Virtual hugs are in our page inbox,” she shared.

Dela Pena said their viewers “continued to support us and encouraged us that greater things will come. Someone gave us a painting in support of the franchise, another group of viners in Bohol dedicated an episode for ABS-CBN.”

Magbanua said “Davao viewers are solid kapamilya.  During our weakest times in terms of ratings nationwide, Davao was considered as our last frontier and we never lost. During the (franchise) hearing period, viewers continued to send messages of support through our social media account.  One avid fan made a poem, one made a song, some sent their art cards and paintings. These were enough fuel to help us continue with our jobs up to our last episode.”

Prof. Aguja believes the non-renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise is connected to the 2022 elections “dahil kung hindi naman malaki at powerful ang ABS-CBN, hindi sya babanatan on the 2016 elections at siempre alam ko may mga naghahanda sa election in 2022. Lahat ng usapin dito naka-connect sa 2022 elections” (because if ABS-CBN had not been big and powerful, it wouldn’t have been attacked on the 2016 polls and of course some people are preparing for the 2022 elections. All of these issues are connected to the 2022 elections).

He said the network with the widest reach or the network that would emerge as having the widest reach will play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the 2022 elections.

Everyday life

Prof. Balajadia explained that the programs of ABS-CBN regional network have become part of the everyday life of many Mindanawons for decades. “Consequently, they have shaped and crystallized the regional psyche of many Mindanawons with the ‘regional’ content and flavor offered by these programs.”

She said the effect of the shutdown of regional stations on Mindanawons will be on two senses: “Firstly, they will be deprived of more diverse media sources of entertainment and news and current affairs programs with more solid ‘indigenous’ or local perspectives. This limited optic to the regional contexts might further isolate and marginalize local realities and affairs that demand much needed attention and response, most especially in these times of the pandemic.”

Employees of ABS-CBN Davao gather at the parking lot of their compound along Shrine Hills in Matina, Davao City on 18 July 2020. Mindanews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Balajadia added that while there are still ABS-CBN national news programs and entertainment shows available via the digital platforms, not all areas have internet connections and in areas where there are,  Mindanawons who want to view these will have to “spend more on internet data just so they can access their favorite shows and programs.”

“The separation anxiety will be slowly felt and will sink in as we will be daily re-socialized that they are here no more,” Balajadia said.

The final episodes on Friday featured the usual news reports as they had always done for decades, but the newscasts were extended to an hour as they featured  segments on the history of the stations and what they have done in two or three decades.

The last episodes ended with the anchors thanking their viewers for their support, for being their “Kapamilya.”

No one said goodbye. “Hangtod sa sunod natong panag-uban” (Until we come together again), the anchors said.

Nearly 300 workers in the four regional stations in Mindanao will be jobless by end of office hours on August 31 but they continue to believe in “Kapamilya Forever,” that one day the nightmare will be over and they can come together and continue their work.

A reporter summed up their collective hope: “Goodbye is not forever.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

ABS-CBN’s chroniclers of Mindanao history hope goodbyes is not forever (1)