Filipino media conglomerate faces attacks from Duterte regime

The Filipino House of Representatives today granted the country’s largest broadcaster, ABS–CBN, a provisional license to operate through October 31.

Angie de SilvaRappler

Angie de Silva/Rappler

The Filipino House of Representatives today granted the country’s largest broadcaster, ABS–CBN, a provisional license to operate through October 31.

The decision comes after the National Telecommunications Commission – at the order of Solicitor General Jose Calida – shuttered the organisation on May 4 following the expiration of its license. ABS-CBN has long drawn the ire of authoritarian President Rodrigo Duterte, who claims the organisation refused to run his campaign ads during the 2016 election – an assertion the conglomerate refutes. Since, ABS-CBN has faced attacks from Malacañang over its award-winning coverage of Duterte’s bloody drug war.

Despite the temporary prolongation of ABS-CBN’s operations, this battle represents a continuation of Duterte’s attacks on press freedoms, the scale of which are unprecedented in the Philippines’ recent history. Come the end of October, the renewal ABS-CBN’s license will require the approval of Congress, both houses of which are overwhelmingly controlled by Duterte-friendly parties.

Though the provision of information related to COVID-19 was the stated reason behind the license’s renewal, the pandemic’s continuation through the fall, and the restrictions that come with it, will likely embolden Duterte to force more permanent crackdowns on press freedom. This will likely manifest in the revocation of ABS-CBN’s license. In the run-up to the 2022 elections, expect legal and physical threats to journalists and their organisations from the government and pro-Duterte groups, respectively, to mount as the president works to silence critics.