Closure of ABS-CBN broadcast operations affects Filipinos in far-flung areas amid Ambo’s onslaught

May 15, 2020 - 4:27 PM
Typhoon Ambo in Eastern Samar
Fallen trees along a road in Dolores, Eastern Samar. Typhoon Ambo made its landfall in the northern part of the Samar islands on May 14, 2020. (Philippine News Agency/Ernest Ken Quitorio Lagarde)

Some checkpoint authorities in the border of Aurora Province were hopeful that media giant ABS-CBN will resume its broadcasting operations as the country faces its first typhoon, claiming it is the only network that has signal in far-flung areas.

Jeff Canoy, one of the network’s broadcast journalists who cover disasters, shared that he and his team encountered these police officers when they reached Aurora for the Typhoon “Ambo” (international name: “Vongfong”) coverage.

He narrated that when the authorities listed their names as they presented their identification cards issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force, one of the police officers asked him if he is one of the reporters who usually cover natural disasters.

Canoy confirmed this and he was later asked, “Babalik na ba kayo, sir?”

The reporter told the police officer that he and his team are just on their way to Aurora but the cop later clarified that he was referring to the network’s broadcasting operations and not their itinerary.

“Hindi sir. ‘Yung ABS, babalik na ba?” the officer asked.

Canoy answered that he is hoping the network can resume its broadcasting operations soon.

The police officer then told him that he is likewise hopeful for the network’s return, citing mobile signal woes.

“Facebook na lang ba kayo? Hirap ng data dito sa bundok, sir,” the officer said.

ABS-CBN went off the air on May 5, a day after its 25-year legislative franchise granted by the Congress on March 30, 1995 expired.

This was in compliance with the cease-and-desist order issued by the National Telecommunications Commission on May 5.

The network shifted its broadcasts to online platforms and other properties not affected by the closure order on May 7, where viewers can watch and listen to its news provided they have a stable internet connection.

The police officer claimed that in Aurora, only ABS-CBN has a strong network signal.

“ABS lang ang malakas ang signal dito. May bagyo ngayon, ‘di namin malaman kung ano nangyayari,” he told the reporter.

“Sana makabalik na kayo sir,” the police officer added.

Aurora is one of the provinces directly affected by Typhoon “Ambo” which has since made six landfalls ever since it entered the Philippine area of responsibility and initially landed on Eastern Samar on Thursday.

As of 11 a.m. today, parts of the province are under tropical cyclone wind signal number three which carries winds measuring 121 to 170 km/h expected in 18 hours.

The typhoon has so far complicated the country’s response in fighting the novel coronavirus as authorities enforce physical distancing measures in evacuation centers, among others.

Meanwhile, Canoy shared the whole story of the incident on Facebook, where it has gone viral with more than 6,000 shares and 39,000 reactions. He also shared this on Twitter.

Kanina sa checkpoint sa border ng Aurora kung saan ako papunta para mag-cover ng bagyo, pinababa kami ng mga…

Posted by Jeff Canoy on Thursday, May 14, 2020


Struggle of getting news updates

Other Filipinos in the comments section shared similar stories of residents supposedly having a hard time receiving news updates, citing that ABS-CBN is the only channel which their television and radios can pick signals from, living in far-flung areas.

“I got a tweet with similar concerns. Nag-aalala daw siya sa parents niya kasi malayo siya at sa lugar ng parents niya, ABS lang ang meron,” a Facebook user wrote and then shared a screengrab of the tweet.

The tweet reads, “Namomroblema po tuloy ang parents ko sa Sorsogon kasi sa munisipyo pa kami, malayo sa (siyudad). Wala silang mapapanoodan. Hay naku. Ngayon pa talaga. Without consideration ang NTC.”

Similar sentiments on the issue could also be found on the microblogging platform where Filipinos shared concerns about getting information while a typhoon is ravaging some parts of the country.

Another ABS-CBN broadcast journalist, Jervis Manahan, shared his fears over families affected by the typhoon whose only source of information is Channel 2.

“Nakakaiyak basahin ang mga comments at tweets ng mga taong nangangamba para sa mga kapamilya nilang taga-malayong lugar o isla ngayong may bagyo at walang ABS-CBN. Akala kasi ng publiko, lahat ng Pinoy may data, signal, o access sa social media. Hindi pala,” he said on Facebook.

“Nalalagay tuloy sa panganib ang mga tao. Sa halip na maging ligtas, mas nalalapit sila sa peligro. Paano kung hindi sila nakapaghanda sa bagyo?” Manahan added.

He recalled a past coverage where he interviewed a group of fishermen in Palawan who was nearly victimized by Typhoon “Vinta” which claimed more than 200 lives.

“Noong January 2018, sa Palawan, may mga na-interview akong mangingisda. Inabutan ng bagyo sa dagat. Na-radiohan naman noong malapit na ang Bagyong Vinta,” Manahan said.

“Pero nasira pa rin ang bangka, mabuti na lang at nakaligtas sila.Kaya naman napakahalaga ang access sa impormasyon at balita, kasi minsan, buhay ang nakataya,” he continued.

Manahan hoped that people who are against the network would consider others in far-flung areas whose only means of information is through television or radio which could only gather signals transmitted by Channel 2, especially in times of disasters.

Franchise renewal woes

The ABS-CBN shutdown affected 42 television stations, including the network’s flagship Channel 2, ten digital broadcasting channels, 18 FM radio stations and five AM radio stations.

The network’s franchise was supposed to be renewed by the legislative body this year but it has since languished in the Congress, particularly the lower House, where at least 11 of different bills have already been filed.

A blame game occurred among some members of the House of Representatives in which House Speaker Alan Cayetano accused the NTC of “ambushing” the lower House who he claimed was supposed to tackle the bill. 

The NTC was reportedly threatened by Solicitor General Jose Calida prior to the issuance of the cease-and-desist order.

The lower chamber has since approved a bill giving the network provisional franchise up to October 2020. Latest reports indicate that ABS-CBN’s provisional franchise has already been approved on the second reading.

Once it gets the House’s nod on the third deliberation, it would then be tackled by the Senate and will later be up for the president’s approval.