I am one of the 11,000
The news. I stared at the black screen as broadcast officially stopped, and I saw my own face staring back at me. Confused, angry, and afraid of what was to come.
It was the evening of May 5, 2020, the finale to a story that left viewers with questions, mostly if we would resume or not. If this was a television show, we would call this the season-ender.
And end the season it did. That is, for the employees of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest network, which was shut down by the government. After almost 67 years on air, this was only the second time something of this sort had happened. The first one was during martial law.
The comedy. This government has delayed things: mass testing, financial aid, sending our OFWs home properly, important press announcements, justice for drug war casualties.
But not this one. In the middle of the COVID-19 quarantine, the National Telecommunications Commission issued a closure order stopping the network’s operations.
They say comedy is tragedy delayed. But we wonder if this punchline is premature.
The action. The company has been taking accusations from its critics like bullets, the detractors wrapping their arguments up in this neat Latin maxim, dura lex sed lex. As our boss at the House of Representatives hearing put it: Yes, we believe in that, too. Because the law also says, we’re innocent until proven guilty.
Then why do we feel like we’re the bad guys?
Now, there’s one less voice to the national discourse. And in so doing, 11,000 people just lost their source of livelihood, due to the very powers that were supposed to ensure work stability. More so in the midst of a pandemic.
I watched a live video protesting the action. And among the sea of trolls, one negative comment stood out. It was from a relative. I commented back, then unfriended him. He messaged me. “You are being very overdramatic.”
How then should we react to this unprecedented situation? Is timid acceptance of one bad news after another the definition of the new normal?
The drama. I am one of 11,000 employees of the network. Each one of us has a story to tell. And this one’s mine.
The network has been part of my life even before my employment six years ago. I grew up watching “Sineskwela,” “Hiraya Manawari,” “Bayani,” and “Math Tinik.” “Tabing Ilog,” “F.L.A.M.E.S.,” and “G-Mik” were my companions during my formative years. But it was comedy shows like “Home Along Da Riles” that inspired me to become a writer, as they brought laughter to my family for years, and I dreamed to capture that same magic. Years later, I was fortunate enough to be included in the channel’s comedy unit. I watched the things I wrote come to life through lights and sound and great talent. The programs I was involved in allowed me to meet people and go to places I had only dreamed of before.
Television became a love language in my family. Together, we watched the episodes I wrote, as I narrated to them what happened behind the scenes, like a running commentary. During my parents’ wedding anniversary, I brought them to the set of a variety show, and I saw them glow like kids in a candy store upon seeing celebrities. Working in TV allowed me to have and cherish those moments.
Now it’s a blank screen. Not just in ours but also in millions of other households in the country. Prior to the shutdown, in far-flung areas the station’s frequency could reach, it was the people’s sole news and entertainment provider.
As employees, we yearn to air our frustration in the streets, but the present situation renders even that impossible. So we hold daily internal prayer vigils online. We express through our social channels, and we receive messages of support. People whom we haven’t met for a while take their time to reach out, and some even offer jobs. There are some who are confused, but still ask how we are, and care about us enough to read the information we give and the articles we send. And even if they remain unconvinced in the end, some are still mature enough to sympathize about our situation anyway. These gestures matter so much.
Then there are those who choose to take this particular time to be insensitive. Trolls we can handle. But painful words from people we know are harder to take. Is it really too hard to consider for a moment that people they know could possibly lose their jobs, their passion, their voice, their venue of expression?
That’s the thing we often forget—in a war, there are casualties. We are your brothers. Your sons and daughters. Your cousins, aunts, nephews. Your former batchmates and classmates. Like you, we complain about the weather and the traffic. We have bills to pay and families to sustain. And like you, we are Filipinos, too. We try our best to just get through this pandemic, one painstaking day at a time. We also worry if we’re going to be the next patient that will be added to the toll. We get hurt about the news. We wish to forget, and we hope we could do something to forget, or to help in the way we know best.
So we create stories. A romance, a comedy, a drama. A variety show. A talent contest. We strive to give hope, and be in the service of the Filipino.
The reality. We’re people who have touched your lives at some point. And we know that compassion is hard to come by right now with the political climate, but the bare minimum of understanding the truth is enough.
And the truth is, we love our jobs dearly. At the end of the day, we’re just employees who are about to lose work, just like a lot of us now. We have also lost sleep. We have cried over this. We wait for truth. We tell ourselves that we’re the good guys we write about, and though there’s still a long way to go before the finale, we fiercely believe in happy endings. And we keep hoping that one day when we open our TV again, instead of darkness we would see colors and movement, and everything will be all right again.
I’m just one of 11,000, a face to the statistic. If they could only reach out and ask what our stories are, they might reconsider being on the right side of history. But in the meantime, words are all we have. And we hold on to our values—excellence, teamwork, learning, honesty, integrity, respect, meritocracy, service. And wherever we are, those are principles they can never take away from us.
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Alpha Habon, 29, is a writer/filmmaker.
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