Consequences of ABS-CBN's absence
STAR CIRCUIT - Ricky Calderon (The Freeman) - May 27, 2020 - 12:00am

With the Philippines still in the midst of a pandemic and facing the threats of the forthcoming rainy season, ABS-CBN’s absence on air is not without major consequences to Filipinos. This is precisely why lawmakers deliberated on the urgency of the network’s franchise renewal as time is ticking, and the masses, especially those living in remote areas, need their broadcast source of timely and relevant information.

In May 19’s Senate hearing, former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile questioned the rush. “My God, the nooks and corners of this republic is rich. Not by television but by radio.  Our people know what’s going on all over the country because of radio,” he said.

But according to ABS-CBN’s general counsel, lawyer Mario Bautista, the cease and desist order issued by the National Telecommunications Commission to ABS-CBN on May 5 “covers not just Channel 2, but also the radio stations of ABS-CBN, which are located all over the country, some in extremely remote areas.”

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, vice chairperson of the Senate Committee on Public Services, meanwhile underlined how imperative the matter is. He said, “Admittedly, there are some areas, I read in some reports, areas like the mountainous parts of Quezon, some areas in Aurora, where ABS-CBN or DZMM is the only network that can reach that far because of their technology. At itong bagyong Ambo na nga, at dahil hindi sila nakakuha ng balita, hindi po sila nakapaghanda nang mas mabilis. So there is really a sense of urgency in tackling this measure.”

On the other hand, Senator Risa Hontiveros cited the country’s pressing need for additional channels of news and information amid today’s health crisis. “We need more, not fewer, channels of information and news to the people, including ABS-CBN, which accounts for more than 40 percent of audience share. News and information for the people on how we’ll survive the pandemic, information on how we’ll get through the quarantine,” she said.

The public’s access to information is just one thing. The absence of a widespread platform such as ABS-CBN is even more unbefitting—today more than ever—as the nation also faces a tough challenge in education.

Sadly, Filipino children’s access to learning may be restricted indefinitely, pending a vaccine that will counter the COVID-19 spread, and this goes back to the critical role of mass media and how untimely the franchise holdup is. The new school year is three months away and broadcast tools will undoubtedly help in the proposed distance learning.

ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak said the network is willing to help the government in creating an educational program under the ‘new normal.’ In the Senate hearing, he confirmed that ABS-CBN was already in pursuit of using its “media assets for education and for child development” when the pandemic hit. But this almost certainly won’t transpire without the broadcast franchise.

While the Senate kicked off ABS-CBN’s franchise deliberations, the House meanwhile dropped its proposed provisional franchise bill to push through with the discussion on the network’s 25-year franchise.

However, with limited time left before the Congress breaks in June and based on House Speaker Allan Peter Cayetano’s pronouncement that the Lower House may be ready to decide after the President’s State of the Nation Address in late July, having ABS-CBN back on air soon is unlikely, just when its services are all the more vital for the Filipino masses.

Despite its obvious consequences, ABS-CBN’s broadcasting fate stays in the hands of legislators and remains undecided, but at what cost? The cost of public’s access to vital information when this can simply be avoided with the timely granting of the franchise.

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