ABS-CBN shutdown: 1972 and 2020 - Blueboard by Millard O. Lim

July 14, 2020

On the morning of 6 May 2020, TV viewers in Metro Manila woke to an off-the-air ABS CBN Channel Two. Instead of the morning news and talk-show, static drowned the TV screen. On 4 May 2020, Republic Act No. 7966, the law granting ABS-CBN a 25-year franchise to broadcast on television and radio, prescribed. The following day, 5 May 2020, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued a Cease and Desist Order stopping ABS-CBN from operating its television and radio broadcasting stations absent a valid Congressional franchise as required by law. The law cited was Republic Act No. 3846 or the Radio Control Law of 1963.
 
Almost forty-eight years earlier, something similar happened. On the morning of 23 September 1972, TV viewers in Metro Manila woke to an off-the-air ABS CBN Channel Two and Channel Four with static also covering TV screens. At about midnight on 22 September 1972, military troops of the Department of National Defense (DND) entered and seized the ABS-CBN Broadcast Center along Bohol Avenue in Quezon City. The DND was enforcing Letter of Instruction No. 1, dated 22 September 1972. In the LOI, President Ferdinand E. Marcos, citing Proclamation No. 1081 and his capacity as commander-in-chief of the military and police, ordered the DND “forthwith to take over and control or cause the taking over and control of all such newspapers, magazines, radio and television facilities and all other media of communications wherever they are” to prevent them from being used “for propaganda purposes against the government and its duly constituted authorities and for any purpose that tends to undermine the faith and confidence of the people in our Government.” In the LOI, FM also declared that there is “a criminal conspiracy to seize political and state power in the Philippines and to take over the Government by force and violence the extent of which has now assumed the proportion of an actual war against our people and their legitimate Government.”
 
In LOI No. 1-A, issued on 28 September 1972, FM ordered the DND “to sequester the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation and the TV and Radio network and facilities owned and operated by the Associated Broadcasting Corporation.” The LOI defined “sequestration” as the “seizure of private property or assets in the hands of any person or entity in order to prevent the utilization, transfer or conveyance of the same for purposes inimical to national security, or when necessary to protect the interest of the Government or any of its instrumentalities.” It includes “the taking over and assumption of the management, control and operation of the private property or assets seized.” The LOI accused “the owners, principal officers and key personnel” of ABS-CBN and ABC of engaging “in subversive activities against the Government and its duly constituted authorities” and participating “in a conspiracy to overthrow the Government.” They are promoting “the agitational propaganda campaign, conspiratorial activities and illegal ends of the Communist Party of the Philippines” and are “indispensable instruments in the assassination attempt against the President of the Republic of the Philippines by maligning him.”
 
Accused of criminal conspiracy against the Philippine government, ABS-CBN finally terminated the services of its employees on 31 October 1972. In November 1972, its president, Eugenio “Geny” Lopez, Jr., wrote to Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile expressing his desire to sell his company to the government. Government responded by arresting him and detaining him in Fort Bonifacio. He was kept for almost five years until his escape on 30 September 1977.   
 
Following LOI No. 1-A, government took over the management and operation of some of the sequestered broadcast stations and facilities. The Banahaw Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), owned by Roberto Benedicto, a close FM associate, took over TV Channel Two. The National Media Production Center (NMPC) under the Ministry of Information took over TV Channel Four, which became the government’s official TV station. The Kanlaon Broadcasting System (KBS), another Benedicto-owned television station, took over the provincial stations to serve as platforms for government’s mass media peace-and-order campaigns.   
 
In June 1986, President Corazon C. Aquino, returned to ABS-CBN most of its radio and TV stations on a gradual and scheduled basis, with the notable exception of TV Channel Four which remained government’s TV channel. On 16 September 1986, ABS-CBN resumed daily broadcasts for both TV and radio. On 30 March 1995, President Fidel V. Ramos signed into law R.A. 7966, which took effect on May 4. This law renewed the legislative franchise earlier given to ABS-CBN in Republic Act No. 5730 in June 1969.
 
In 1972, FM sought the demise of ABS-CBN. In 2020, PRRD is seeking the same.
 
FM used the DND, and therefore a military solution, to achieve his aim. He succeeded but only temporarily as it turned out. The military solution to the ABS-CBN problem had to be carried out in the context of an emergency and extraordinary measures were used: installing a revolutionary government through a coup d’etat in the guise of martial law, branding the owners and operators of a prominent company enemies of the Republic, arresting its CEO, and sequestering its broadcast properties. In short, FM used the traditional tactics of an autocrat who is getting rid of an enemy.  
 
By contrast, PRRD used the Office of the Solicitor-General (OSG), and therefore a legal solution, to achieve his aim. He too succeeded but whether only temporarily is too early to say. The legal solution to the ABS-CBN problem was carried out in a state of perfect normalcy: no state of emergency was declared to fight enemies of the state and threats to the Republic, no one from ABS-CBN has been arrested and its broadcast properties remain unmolested. PRRD was able to get rid of his enemy without extraordinary measures because fortuitous circumstances allowed him to use the law – R.A. 3846 and an expired R.A. 7966 – as a weapon against his enemy. The all-win outcome: enemy gone, rule of law ostentatiously flaunted as “upheld,” and diffusible blame with Malacañang appearing as the least culpable.
 
Millard O. Lim is a lecturer at the Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University