One year since television screens went black, the call to bring back ABS-CBN on free TV and radio remains strong in a testament to the enduring influence of the Kapamilya network.
The hashtag #IbalikAngABSCBN was among the top trending topics on Twitter on Wednesday as the Lopez-led network marked one year since it went off the air. Tweets were of support to the beleaguered network that has since aggressively expanded its digital footprint.
While many viewed the shutdown as the end, for ABS-CBN News chief Ging Reyes, May 5, 2020 was only "the beginning of a long, dark silent night."
"For 11,000 workers and their families, May 5, 2020 was the beginning of a long, dark silent night. Some images have stayed with me to this day," Reyes said in an article published by ABS-CBN News to mark one year since it went off the air.
ABS-CBN on May 5, 2020 stopped its broadcast operations upon orders from the National Telecommunications Commission as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the country. The company's franchise expired the day before.
The shutdown was viewed as a fulfillment of President Rodrigo Duterte's threat to the network: "I will see to it that you are out." Malacañang however has repeatedly distanced the President from the Kapamilya network's franchise woes.
From that point on, it took around two more months before the Philippines' largest media organization lost its bid for a fresh license to operate which resulted in pay cuts, layoffs, and the closure of several departments such as ABS-CBN Sports in the middle of a pandemic.
At least two rounds of layoffs were pursued by ABS-CBN following the shutdown. Workers who stayed with the company were meanwhile asked for voluntary pay cuts.
At the start of the year, Senate President Vicente Sotto III filed a bill for a fresh franchise for ABS-CBN. A counterpart House bill was filed within weeks, raising hopes that the Kapamilya network could soon return to free TV.
Less than a month after, House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco shattered hopes of a possible ABS-CBN comeback, saying calls to grant the network a new franchise will have to wait until the election of the next Congress in 2022.
Velasco made the remark after Duterte in February said he would block the shuttered network's operations.
Duterte, in a Feb. 8 public address, said he would not allow the NTC to issue a permit to operate to ABS-CBN even if Congress grants it a fresh broadcast license.
"I will not allow the NTC to grant them the permit to operate. Kung ibigay ninyo ‘yung franchise because it is within your power to do it, go ahead. Alam mo bakit? Unless and until mabayaran ng mga Lopez ang taxes nila, I will not -- I will ignore your franchise and I will not give them the license to operate. Kalokohan ‘yan," he said.
The President's threat and the loss of its franchise however have not stopped ABS-CBN from fulfilling its mission to be "in the service of the Filipino," live streaming shows and newscasts online, and forging partnerships with other networks to air its programs on free TV.
And as ABS-CBN News chief Ging Reyes puts it: "It’s been one year since that dark, silent night. We have not given up. We still deliver the news. We will wait for that joyous daybreak."