Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has never been one to hold his tongue. His latest rant happened on Tuesday, and at the receiving end of it was ABS-CBN, one of the biggest TV networks in the Philippines.
In a speech, Duterte said that he will not renew ABS-CBN’s license to operate when it expires, a threat he has made multiple times in the past. However, it’s a much bigger deal now, seeing as the network’s current franchise will end by March next year.
"Your franchise is going to end next year. If you expect it to be renewed, I'm sorry. I will see to it that you’re out," Duterte said.
Five bills have been filed to extend ABS-CBN's franchise for another 25 years, CNN Philippines reported. These must be approved by the House of Representatives before they go to the Senate.
If their franchise is not renewed, ABS-CBN would have to halt all its radio and television operations.
Duterte does not try to hide his beef against ABS-CBN. In 2017, he threatened to block the network’s franchise renewal after accusing it of “swindling” him for not airing his political ads during the 2016 presidential campaign. He repeated the threat in 2018, calling ABS-CBN “thieves” that “trick the small people.” The president has also repeatedly accused ABS-CBN and other “mainstream” media outlets of publishing fake news.
ABS-CBN is a local media giant, with multiple TV channels, radio stations, a film production company, music recording label, and websites under it. However, its stock price has been on a downward trend since Duterte rose to power in 2016. According to Rappler, ABS-CBN’s stock fell by 2.6 percent a day after the president’s latest threat.
Many Filipinos are now up in arms about the possibility of ABS-CBN shutting down. This morning, #NoToABSCBNShutdown was a top trending topic on Philippine Twitter. Some are emotional about losing a legacy brand that brought them entertainment they grew up watching, while critics are worried that this is Duterte’s way of controlling the media.
Twitter user @ViceralxPerez was sentimental about the shutdown.
“I grew up with ABSCBN, it's a very big part of my childhood & my life. The artists here are a big inspiration to kids, to people who are fighting for their lives and to people who want to forget their problems for a while. So please, do not take ABSCBN down. #NoToABSCBNShutdown.”
Duterte critic and former Solicitor General Pilo Hilbay called the threat an abuse of power.
“Mr. Duterte says he would see to it that ABS-CBN's franchise will not be renewed. Why? Simply because he doesn't like ABS-CBN.
By exercise of presidential prerogative he seeks, with an ‘evil eye & uneven hand,’ to destroy a media company.
This is blatant abuse of public power.”
Writer Gideon Lasco brought up Duterte's attacks on other media outlets.
“Like his assault against Rappler and other media outlets, Duterte's threat against ABS-CBN is an act of a dictator and a thug; a grave abuse of power for personal vindictiveness.
I urge members of Congress not to participate in this latest attack on democracy and press freedom.”
User @chsr__ was worried about ABS-CBN’s employees.
“There are more important issues in this country, but our President is busy taking down the no.1 TV Station in the Philippines who provide jobs to thousands of Filipino laborers. What a shame! #NoToABSCBNShutdown.”
Blogger Ederic Eder compared Duterte to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
“See how Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatens the media. He flaunts how he and his lapdogs in Congress will ignore separation of powers. A fan of the late dictator Marcos, Duterte governs through personal vendetta and cronyism. #NoToABSCBNShutdown.”
This isn’t the first time a president threatened to shut down ABS-CBN. In 1972, after declaring martial law, Marcos successfully ordered the military to to take over the assets of ABS-CBN and various radio stations across the country.
Duterte is close to the Marcos family and has shared his admiration for the late president multiple times.