OFFICIAL ENGLISH VERSION OF THE TAGALOG STATEMENT ON ABSCBN SHUTDOWN
I join those who lament the shutdown of an institution in Philippine media — ABS-CBN. These are critical times in the nation’s history. People need to be informed. People need their views heard. And yes, people also need to be entertained.
The legalities are without dispute. A network like ABS-CBN cannot operate without a franchise. But what disheartens me is that while an application for a renewed franchise had long been filed with Congress, our legislators chose to leave the matter unattended until, by operation of law, the network’s franchise lapsed.
It is not about the legal aspects of the issue that I am concerned. The spiritual and moral issues are my concern.
First, whenever a channel of communication by which government action can be commented on, even criticized and opposing views can find a hearing, is suppressed, national discourse is impoverished. 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.
Secondly, legislative power is awesome — and the closure of a network that has served the country for a long time is just one raw demonstration of this power. That is what makes it very dangerous when it is conscripted for purposes other than that for which the Constitution has bestowed it.
This brings me to the question: While it is not doubted that the grant of a franchise invokes the sound discretion of the Legislature, what fault and wrongdoing has been committed to warrant the virtual “closure by force of circumstance” of ABS-CBN?
Then, there is the matter of the mass unemployment of the station’s employees, many of whom earned their daily living by the work they did for the network. Why exacerbate an already dire situation when so many of our countrymen have been harshly treated by the pandemic?
The nation needs healing. We all must pray for healing. COVID 19 is only one of the wounds that has afflicted us. There is so much hate. Too many harsh words have been spoken. And healing cannot come about when, rather than listening to those who have divergent views, we shut them down.
I urge our legislators from Pangasinan to act on the network’s application for the renewal of its franchise.
I also call on those who manage ABS-CBN to make use of this period for self-reflection and scrutiny. The crude entertainment must go; so must those programs that serve no useful social purpose and those that, while earning the applause of the simple folk, add nothing to knowledge or to the promotion of culture. The government must be criticized when it is wrong, but all criticism must always be charitable — and above all, truthful.
Above all, I pray that we humble ourselves, turn to the Lord and pray, because he has promised that when we do so, he will heal our land.
May 6, 2020
+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan