BY CARLA P. GOMEZ
Bacolod residents on board close to 100 vehicles drove through the city’s major thoroughfares for about an hour late Saturday with lights flashing and horns blaring in a show of support for ABS-CBN, its 11,000 employees who will lose their jobs at the end of August, and freedom of the press.
In front of the network’s Bacolod broadcast station at Lacson Street, a crowd also gathered for a solidarity rally in support of ABS-CBN.
A group also gathered in front of the Bishop’s House for a “Rosary for Democracy” led by Bacolod Bishop Patricio Buzon.
“We held a prayer rally to implore God to save us from an impending tyranny, a virus more deadly than COVID-19 because it threatens not only our life, but also our freedom,” Buzon said.
Buzon, in a statement he issued Saturday, condemned the non-renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, saying it was yet another display of the Duterte administration’s intolerance for views that put to question its policies and actions.
“We have been through the dark, cruel days of tyranny. If we stand and speak up now, our children do not have to go through it”, he said.
Seventy members of the House committee on legislative franchises on July 10 rejected the bills seeking to grant ABS-CBN a fresh franchise, 11 went for ABS-CBN, two inhibited, and one abstained.
This act by the House committee is the latest in the series of insidious attempts by the present administration to quash dissent and prevent persons and institutions from exercising their right to free speech as well as benefiting from a free and independent press, the bishop said.
The denial of the ABS-CBN franchise application has silenced a major source of information for our people, compromising the constitutionally guaranteed right to information on matters of public concern, the bishop added.
“The Diocese (of Bacolod) is convinced that our democracy is being imperiled. If left unchallenged, our country can retrogress to tyrannical rule,” he said.
As a Church we rise to the occasion as prophets, he added.
“We heed the call of the times and speak up. We condemn that which undermines the common good. We condemn that which disregards established right,” he said.
Buzon said the country’s elected representatives are duty bound to uphold and protect the rights of the people and secure the common good of the nation.
Marchel Espina, National Union of Journalists in the Philippines Bacolod Chapter chair, who joined about 100 gathered in a solidarity rally in front of the network’s Bacolod station at Lacson Street, said the ABS- CBN employees, 81 of whom are in Bacolod City, will lose their jobs not because of the COVID-19 pandemic but because of the vindictiveness of this administration – the capriciousness of one man.
“The NUJP-Bacolod chapter is in solidarity with our colleagues and friends at ABS-CBN. This is a very tough time for the press and for the country’s democracy. We call on our colleagues to resist the further attempt of this government to shackle the press,” she said.
Also at the rally were some officers of the Negros Press Club led by its president Glazyl Masculino.
The solidarity rally was participated in by journalists, youth, cause-oriented groups, and ABS-CBN workers.
Labor leader Wennie Sancho scored the 70 lawmakers, whom he called “legistraitors”, for being the culprits in the “terrible labor oppression” of the 11,000 ABS-CBN workers.
“It is a treachery to the cause of the workers because the employees of ABS-CBN were humiliated, oppressed and impoverished as a result of the franchise denial,” he said.
An emotional Romeo Subaldo, ABS-CBN Bacolod news chief, thanked the Bacolodnons for coming out and showing their support to the network.
“Thank you for supporting us, even if we don’t know all of you,” Subaldo told the crowd gathered in front of the television station.
“In the past months, we were tortured every day. This week, we heard the worst news in our lives, that we will lose our jobs while there is still a pandemic. What will happen to us?” he asked.
ABS CBN senior reporter Yasmin Pascual-Dormido thanked those who joined the protest and caravan. “We feel all your love and support, madamo gid na salamat (thank you very much),” she said.
Negrense Rep. Stephen Paduano (Abang Lingkod partylist) who was among the 70 who voted against the renewal of the network’s franchise could not be reached for comment on Saturday’s protest as of press time.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, when asked by the DAILY STAR for his comment on Saturday’s protests, said he had “none”.*