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While ABS-CBN gets shut down, hold the government accountable for these issues too

Gabbi Garcia and Khalil Ramos for Scout x Globe

On May 5, The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) ordered a cease-and-desist order against ABS-CBN. With the exemption of ANC and DZMM Teleradyo, ABS-CBN’s stations signed off today. 

This is truly a dark day for Filipino journalism. At a time when the public needs more reliable, non-state-controlled sources of information, we lose a 65-year-old media franchise. 

“The 11 bills seeking the renewal of franchise of ABS-CBN remain pending before the House committee on legislative franchises—the earliest of which, at least in the 18th Congress, was filed in July 2019,” writes Inquirer. “So far, the committee on legislative franchises has only held one hearing—or meeting—to discuss the matter. But during this meeting, no one from ABS-CBN or from the opposition was invited.”

We’re dealing with a lot of things more dire than acting out on the president’s two-year grudge against a media outlet. 

ABS-CBN’s franchise bid remained pending in congress since Mar. 10. When May 3 came, Solicitor General Jose Calida declared NTC cannot grant provisional authorities to ABS-CBN and its affiliates since they failed to secure a franchise from Congress. Truly, a mental gymnastics move catching everyone off guard. 

With ABS-CBN’s shutdown, the country is now left with only a handful of major non-state-controlled news outlets. Shutting down a reputable private media entity erodes the democracy and transparency in information. Considering journalism’s role as the state’s watchdog, it is fundamental that they be free of government influence.

On a more pressing note, the shutdown has robbed tens of thousands of citizens of their job security in one swoop. In a crumbling economy, what will happen to this major franchise’s 11,000 workers and their families?

“We will be back, just as we survived martial law. Let history and the Filipino people judge this moment,” tweets ABS-CBN reporter Mike Navallo. We’re judging right now and came up with a conclusion—this shit ain’t right. Right now, the government needs to sharpen its focus. We’re dealing with a lot of things more dire than acting out on the president’s two-year grudge against a media outlet.

From POGO operations spitting on the Philippine law to COVID cases nearing 10,000, here are current issues that should’ve been given immediate action instead. 

POGO operations continue despite breaching protocol

Last Friday, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced that Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) will be allowed to partially operate again. Roque then claimed that POGOs are under a BPO classification, which would further exempt them from franchise taxes and license fees.

Earlier this year, BIR revealed that P50B worth of tax was unpaid by POGOs 2019. In addition, their sector only contributed “a measly” 1.5 percent of the country’s taxes in the last five years, according to research group Ibon. Ibon also points out that POGOs largely employ Chinese workers, which does not contribute to Filipino employment. Despite these breaches in protocol, the government was still able to find reasons for POGOs to resume business.

80 percent of state-run schools are not ready for online classes

DepEd has declared that school resumes this Aug. 24—and it’s already worrying students and parents. With only three months to spare, “Only 20 percent of SUCs have learning management systems that allow a shift to flexible learning, including online learning,” says Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) chair Prospero de Vera III.

“The reason why lots of students oppose online classes is because it is anti-poor and there is little to no consideration [of] the students at all,” says Bicol University student leader Irish Mae Barrion Torres in a previous interview. “You can’t expect the students to return to school as if nothing happened. Malaking dagok ito sa estudyante at sa pamilya nila—financially and mentally.” 

Two months in, PH still lacks equipment to fight COVID-19

As of May 4 via the DOH, 117,853 individuals have been tested for COVID. For comparison, that is only 0.915 percent of the 12 million-strong Metro Manila population—meaning we’ve barely scratched the surface of the country’s population.

“Sa kasalukuyan, higit na nga ito sa walong libo kada araw kung pagsasama-samahin ang testing capacity ng bawat lisensyadong COVID-19 laboratory,” says Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire in an online press conference today. Currently, testing centers cannot reach their maximum testing capacity—targeting 30K daily tests by the end of month—because they lack reagents and manpower.

The ABS-CBN shutdown doesn’t only stifle press freedom in our country. It also shows where the people in power’s priorities lie at the moment.

COVID-19 cases near 10,000

On May 5, COVID-19 cases in the Philippines are now at 9,684. “Of the new cases, 173 or 87 percent are from the National Capital Region, only one (0.5 percent) from Region 7 or Central Visayas and the rest (25 or 12.5 percent) from other regions,” writes ABS-CBN. There are 637 COVID-19 related fatalities as of writing. 

From rising COVID-19 cases to economic instability, our government should be focusing on flattening the curve. Shutting down a media organization at a time like this can potentially damage our state, both in transparency and in sustaining our country’s economy. There are more pressing issues that need immediate attention.

Read more: Why you should stand with ABS-CBN

The ABS-CBN shutdown doesn’t only stifle press freedom in our country. It also shows where the people in power’s priorities lie at the moment.

Read more:
A reminder to the government that we are a democracy, and the people hold power
The (completely surreal) timeline of the past four weeks
Online classes are in session, but it’s not for everyone

Art by Rogin Losa

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