An undisclosed number of ABS-CBN employees ended their last working day Monday and headed off into an uncertain market where the coronavirus pandemic is causing the economy the bleed jobs.
Christian Abuel, among the laid off workers, had a starring role in a send-off station ID. He removed his ABS-CBN ID with the broadcast tower as backdrop. He stood at the compound's empty center road, the site of many riotous live shows and parties.
Only two stars sang in the video, "Tinig ng mga Nawalan," on screen and off screen pair Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo. They shared billing with employees who were unofficially unemployed at sunset: Yay Galvez, Wow Vergara, Reggie Espiritu, Nico Alay-Ay, Joko Balisa, Julius Ramos, Maynard Jamisola, Nathan Perez, and Aileen Gooco among others. Wearing face masks and face shields, they had their clenched fists on their left breast in a sign of solidarity.
Watch the video here.
ABS-CBN's free TV operation is dead for now. Its went off air on May 5, after its franchise expired and Congress denied its application for a renewal.
Anchor Dhobie de Guzman has been the face of a popular news show in the northern Philippines for more than a decade. Now the closure of his regional station -- and dozens of others countrywide -- has left him out of work.
The closure of 53 regional television and radio stations that broadcast in six languages will deprive millions of Filipinos of their main source of local news and entertainment.
"It's painful," de Guzman, 43, told AFP last Friday after presenting the final "TV Patrol North Luzon" in a studio 240 kilometers (150 miles) from Manila.
"You do your job responsibly, you do your share to change the life of ordinary people, then at the end of the day you lose your platform to do that."
ABS-CBN, which is owned by the wealthy Lopez family, has broadcast continuously since 1953 except between 1972 and 1986 when it was seized by dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Duterte has a history of clashing with media outlets critical of his policies, including his controversial drug war that has killed thousands of people. While he has denied any involvement in Congress's decision to reject ABS-CBN's application, he had previously pledged to block its licence renewal.
In the months since losing its free-to-air permit, ABS-CBN has kept showing many of its popular news and drama programs on cable TV and online.
But much of the advertising revenue it used to rake in has been wiped out, forcing the broadcaster to dramatically cut costs.
"Unfortunately, (digital advertising revenue) is not at the same level as broadcast, so that's where the challenge is nowadays," said ABS-CBN news and current affairs boss Regina Reyes.
After the closure of the regional stations on Friday, more parts of the network were shuttered on Monday and many of its stars are expected to move on. Thousands of jobs -- including staff and contractors -- could be lost, ABS-CBN warned previously.
For decades, ABS-CBN's regional network has played a vital role in broadcasting information on natural disasters, such as typhoons, and health crises -- including the coronavirus pandemic -- to isolated communities that have little or no internet access.
For many, it is their only source of news. Fishermen in some regions have long relied on their local broadcaster to know if it was safe to go out to sea, said Reyes.
"Not everyone has access to the internet, to radio or newspapers," said Micaella Ilao, a TV reporter in Baguio.
"Removing (TV broadcasters) deprives the people of the privilege to receive proper information."
The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines has described the closure of ABS-CBN's regional stations as a "black day for independent media" in the country.
"It's an avoidable national tragedy, inflicted by the very people who should protect Filipinos from all adversity," it said.
ABS-CBN is allowed to file a fresh petition, but its success would require members of Congress, dominated by Duterte allies and whose terms expire in 2022, to change their minds.
For now, they are mourning the loss of their network.
"It's not just a channel... it's a relationship, a connection that has been lost," said Stanley Palisada, who was head of the regional news group.
"You become the medium of preference for people, for the local community, to complain, to ask for help in reaching out to the government officials and (entities) who may have the solutions to their problems."
-- with Agence France-Presse