Palace claims absence of ABS-CBN regional networks amid 'Rolly' onslaught left no vacuum

Malinao, Albay after Super Typhoon Rolly
Residents gather along road damaged by heavy rains brought by the Super Typhoon Rolly (international name Goni) after it hit the town of Malinao, Albay province, south of Manila on Nov. 1, 2020.
AFP / Charism Sayat

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Monday claimed that there was no communication vacuum when Super Typhoon Rolly battered parts of the country, despite the closure of regional offices of ABS-CBN.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque cited the work of state and private media amid the onslaught of Rolly to provide public service information.

“[The] communication infrastructure of the government is also working during time of emergency, so I think there was no vacuum,” he added in Filipino.

News programs in 21 regional stations of ABS-CBN, which had been catering to regional audiences for decades, closed down in August, following the House of Representatives’ denial of a fresh franchise for the media giant.

The network was also forced to pull the plug on its radio stations.

When the network announced its closure in August, ABS-CBN Regional Head Tata Sy said: “ABS-CBN Regional serves Filipinos in remote areas not reached by other television signals. But more than delivering breaking news, ABS CBN Regional news teams are also the first to bring aid and relief to communities struck by calamities."

Ex-VP Binay: ABS-CBN void yet to be filled

For former Vice President Jejomar Binay, however, the closure of ABS-CBN and its regional networks “has left a noticeable void that has yet to be filled by the other networks.”

SPECIAL REPORT: With ABS-CBN off the air, Filipinos lose a way of life, sociologist says

In a statement quoted by ABS-CBN, Binay said that the onslaught of Typhoon Rolly, which affected more than 2 million Filipinos and left at least 10 dead, reminded the public of the role media in times of calamities.

“In far-flung areas beyond the immediate reach of government, such information from media can spell the difference between life and death,” Binay said.

The former vice president noted that ABS-CBN “was able to serve residents who were caught off-guard, unaware of the super typhoon’s destructive nature, and orders from local authorities to evacuate.”

The closure of ABS-CBN’s regional offices also came at a time when community newspapers were also forced to fold or reduce their pages to grapple with the debilitating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Binay also noted anecdotal stories of residents in the communities who were caught off-guard with the destructive effects of Rolly and orders for evacuation.

“This experience should give us all a vital lesson. That political decisions, especially those intended to exact a steep price for criticisms of government policies and personalities or to redress a real or imagined personal insult, can have far-reaching and even tragic consequences on the lives of ordinary Filipinos,” he added.

In July, lawmakers at the House killed ABS-CBN’s bid for franchise that caused thousands of layoffs from the network. The National Telecommunications Commission recalled ABS-CBN’s frequencies in September.

ABS-CBN has since devoted its resources to boosting its digital presence. Some of its entertainment shows and movies have also returned to free TV after the network sealed a deal with Zoe Broadcasting Network Inc, operating channel 11. — Kristine Joy Patag

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