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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

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

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.

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