Church leaders alarmed over govt’s shutdown of broadcast network

Church leaders alarmed over govt’s shutdown of broadcast network

Employees and supporters of ABS-CBN hold a rally outside the network’s compound in Quezon City on February 28, 2020.

By Roy Lagarde

May 6, 2020

Manila, Philippines

If freedom of expression and dissent is curtailed, human rights will follow suit, a Catholic archbishop has warned.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan said press freedom encourages debates and discussions to increase government’s accountability and protect the rights of the people.

“The muffling of free national discourse — which is the foundation of legitimacy — makes it easier for power to run rough-shod over people’s rights and interests,” Villegas said.

The former head of the Philippine bishops’ conference made the statement Wednesday after the government ordered the country’s largest broadcasting network to halt operations.

Aside from being a legal issue, he said that the matter also involves “moral and spiritual” aspects that need attention.

According to him, press freedom is a key mechanism of a functioning and healthy democracy.

“The government should be willing to listen to criticisms and opposing views to improve governance,” Villegas said.

The archbishop also expressed concern to the thousands of workers who will be affected by the network’s shutdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.

ABS-CBN signed off after its evening news broadcast on Tuesday, leaving the jobs of 11,000 news and production personnel in jeopardy.

The move followed after the National Telecommunications Commission issued a cease-and-desist order after ABS-CBN’s broadcast franchise expired on May 4.

It also comes after Congress sat on a decision to renew the station’s license.

“Why exacerbate an already dire situation when so many of our countrymen have been harshly treated by the pandemic?” Villegas said.

In several occasions, President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly threatened to close down the network for its critical coverage of the government’s bloody drug war that claimed thousands of lives.

Before the closure order, government’s top lawyer, Solicitor-General Jose Calida, warned NTC against allowing the station to operate temporarily.

For Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, the NTC order was “treachery of the highest order”.

Bishops Ruperto Santos of Balanga and Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos also expressed alarm over the shutdown of the network, which has been a major news source on the pandemic.

“It is untimely and disservice at this time of pandemic the cease and desist order given to ABS-CBN,” Santos said.

“Whatever legal issues there might be in this case, a remedy should be sought that will not further aggravate the plight of thousands of workers that will be added to the growing number of Filipino gravely affected by this pandemic,” said Alminaza.

Villegas also called on ABS-CBN to use this moment to critically examine itself and their mission to society, adding that “it does not help that the television is used to break morals and culture of the Filipinos”.

“There is something more important in the top rating. Promoting wisdom and goodwill is paramount. Don’t be afraid to criticize, but do it for the good of all and always based on the truth,” he said.