ABS-CBN shutdown a threat to press freedom, a bane to transformative education

May 8, 2020

by Educators' Forum for Development

We, members of the Educators’ Forum for Development, express our strong indignation at the shutdown of ABS-CBN media corporation by the National Telecommunications Commission’s (NTC) issuance of a cease and desist order. The broadcasting network has gone off-the-air starting May 5th for the first time since Martial Law, and this has brought deep concerns about looming threats to our rights and freedoms as a nation.

We are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic to which our government can only muster a militaristic response instead of strengthening our health system and relay incoherent reports, and at times, disinformation. This is the worst time indeed to close down one of the channels of mass communication that can deliver real news and information.

As educators of social studies, we are deeply troubled by a social context that is becoming increasingly repressive and where power is abused and basic human rights are violated. We shall not allow this social context to shape our pupils into a misinformed and uncritical citizenry. We draw public attention to these threats:

One, while the ABS-CBN franchise issue is a legal one, we cannot deny its political implications and effects on press freedom. President Duterte has expressed its displeasure with the Lopez-owned network, accusing it of unfair treatment and coverage. But this also speaks of the danger of media companies having to tame their reportage so as not to offend the powers-that-be, regardless of the fact that the President and his Cabinet are public servants, and therefore expected to be under continuous public scrutiny and accountability.

Two, it sends a chilling effect on the rest of Filipino society that if a big broadcasting network can be brought down by the government, then so can smaller media outlets and organizations, and even ordinary people airing their grievances and calling out abuses of power. Already, we have heard reports of citizens being accosted in alleged violation of the Bayanihan Heal as One Act because of their social media posts criticizing the slow distribution of subsidies, among other lockdown-related issues.

Three, it cannot be helped that the issue does not only concern the NTC order, but more so the apparently intentional dereliction of duty by lawmakers in promptly settling the franchise issue of ABS-CBN. To say “dura lex sed lex” (The law is harsh but it is the law.) is unquestioningly accepting what is unfair and allowing indeed the state to weaponize and abuse the law to fit its vested interests. This is a clear abrogation of our historic efforts as a people to craft laws that uphold people’s rights and welfare.

When schools open this August 24, we teachers would be ever more challenged to instill values on human rights, freedom and democracy in our students when COVID-19 has only brought to fore the rottenness of our social system. How then shall we teach accountability and leadership? How can we teach our students to be agents of change when the most basic freedom of speech is shut down at every opportunity? It shall be a repressed classroom as well if we allow ourselves to be cowed into this horrible context.

We challenge our leaders to decide accordingly as public servants. As one legal expert has noted, public opinion still matters in the exercise of our laws and policies.

But in the end, surviving COVID-19 and its aftermath, we as educators take on the challenge to continue graduating students to be well-informed, scientific, critical, and freedom-loving Filipinos, ever in genuine service of the Filipino people.