ABS-CBN shutdown ‘major electoral agenda’ in 2022 polls –House leaders

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THE shutdown of ABS-CBN broadcasting network has paved the way for press freedom to be “a major electoral agenda” in the 2022 presidential elections, lawmakers said on Wednesday.

This comes a year after the media giant was ordered by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to cease operations on May 5, 2020. The NTC had reneged on its promise to lawmakers to grant ABS-CBN a provisional permit, pending the renewal of its franchise.

“A year after ABS-CBN went off [the] air and a year [before] the 2022 elections, the respect for press freedom stands out as a major political agenda, which presidential aspirants must demonstrate,” Gabriela Women’s Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas said.

She said that no candidate who associates himself or herself with President Rodrigo Duterte, whose laws and policies have sent a “chilling effect” on press freedom, should be given the chance to lead the country.

Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, who sits as Deputy Minority Leader at the House of Representatives, echoed Brosas’ sentiment.

He said the shutdown of the network by “undemocratic forces” may have “dented the freedom of the press, but it failed to silence [a] nation seeking accountability amid this pandemic-aggravated crisis.”

“Despite these attacks, we now witness how [those] faint critical voices that they expected to fade or vanish are now getting louder once again, seeking transparency and accountability,” Zarate said.

“Even ABS-CBN did not wither away at all. It opened and migrated [to] other media platforms, and is still among the sources of credible information by millions of our people — now being flooded by fake news and revisionist narratives,” he added.

ABS-CBN’s legislative franchise expired on May 4, 2020. The broadcast giant went back to free-to-air television in October 2020 after sealing an agreement with the newly rebranded “A2Z,” previously known as Zoe TV Channel 11. It is owned by Brother Eddie Villanueva, who sits as Deputy Speaker at the House.

ACT Teachers’ Party-list Rep. France Castro who, like Brosas, is an Assistant Minority Leader, meanwhile, recalled the thousands of media employees who were forced to leave their jobs due to the shutdown and the “continued threats, harassment, red-tagging, arrests, and other forms of attacks” against journalists and workers from other sectors.

“Filipinos remember, so whoever Duterte’s candidates are in the upcoming elections would be marked as candidates under a regime that is threatened by the free press, public discourse, and a nation that speaks up and fights for its rights,” said Castro.

The shutdown of ABS-CBN was the second time in Philippine history. It was first forced off the air in September 1972 when then President Ferdinand Marcos placed the country under Martial Law.

Duterte had been publicly ranting against the embattled network since he assumed office in 2016, saying it failed to air his campaign commercials. In a Senate hearing, however, he accepted the apology of ABS-CBN President Carlo Katigbak for airing an anti-Duterte ad that was paid for by the opposition.

“This 2022, we hope we will elect a leader who [would] overturn this crazy madman’s show,” Brosas said in a statement. “Kailangang ibalik ang ABS-CBN at igalang ang kalayaan sa pamamahayag pati na ang karapatan ng publiko sa impormasyon (The government should bring back ABS-CBN and learn to respect the freedom of the press and the right of the public to information).”

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