Of Silence And Shutdown: Celebrities Are Not Just Here For Your Entertainment, They Have To Make A Stand, Too

Without the repercussions of a well-sculpted and protected image, as well as of propriety-anchored loyalties, these celebrities are standing up and fighting for what is right beyond the curated context of entertainment.

Related:Dispatch From The Front Lines: Stories Of Hope From The War-Torn Battlefield Of COVID-19

“This is ABS-CBN Corporation Channel 2, now signing off,” and so went the deep and familiar voice that has inarguably narrated the history of the network, as well as ours. However, reassuring as it typically is in the wee hours of the morning after a day of broadcast, this one was rather bittersweet, because at 7:52 PM, the screen went black. No white noise, no promise of a new day, just maddening silence.

Following a cease and desist order from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), ABS-CBN was compelled to shut down operations after its congressional franchise expired on May 4, 2020, a spine-chilling case of history repeating itself since Martial Law was declared in September 1972. Never mind that despite the beleaguered broadcasting network actively working to procure a renewal of the franchise since 2014 (with 11 bills submitted, including the latest effort in July 2019), it has had to jump over circus-like hurdles such as the quo warranto petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General to the Supreme Court in February 2019 to outright cancel the franchise altogether, a summoning of its executives to a Senate Panel, in which they were cleared by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of any alleged issues and violations, and a public apology to President Rodrigo Duterte from ABS-CBN President and Chief Executive Officer Carlo Katigbak over the non-airing of campaign ads of the head of state in 2016 amounting to 7 million pesos.

One would assume that things were looking up for the multimedia conglomerate as the premise of a provisional authority was floated around by the House of Representatives, which was agreed by the senate and NTC Commissioner Cordoba. However, as we have come to realize by now, words appear to be empty promises made to appease a public closely watching their every move. With the House of Representatives procrastinating on the hearing of ABS-CBN, dragging their foot as heavily to the ground as it possibly can, the imminent lapsing of the franchise happened sans the provisional authority.

In the seemingly spiteful hands of the law’s executors, the action was surprisingly quick, leaving no choice for ABS-CBN to close up shop. With its main channel compromised, including provincial channels, radio stations, and about 11,000 employees, the message was becoming clear from their point-of-view: this was no mere heat, but rather an act of arson to liberties protected and upheld by the broadcast network. Harsh as it may be, the law is the law, they continue to argue, even if the claims, both the sound and archaic, were refuted in black and white.

While there is a contention of legal matters, process of bureaucracy, and merit to follow, the vetting of this vendetta for the agent of broadcasting has become so long-played out that it couldn’t have come at the worst time, with the entire country and the rest of the world battling the vicious pandemic that continues to claim everything from economies to the lives of many.

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This is precisely one of the reasons why the public is taking offense and crying foul over the smiting of justice that doesn’t benefit the greater good. Not only has a source of income and information been cut off, but it also sets a precedent for the compromise of fourth estate’s constitutional ability to function as a check and balance to hold the government accountable in the democracy. After all, the press was established to serve the governed, not the governors. “Ang naparating sa akin, wala na ang pamilya mo, wala na ‘yung tahanan mo, wala na ‘yung source of information mo. For the first time in 50 days, natakot ako,” expresses Bela Padilla during Laban, Kapamilya, an online protest featuring celebrities and employees alike following the network shut down.

More surprisingly, with the lid of propriety popped off as a result of the network going off air, a lot of contract artists, celebrities, and personalities have steeled themselves, becoming passionately vocal about the circumstance handed to them and the rest of the people who for ABS-CBN.

Consumed by emotion, as it is natural from what can be best described as your home being taken away from you for no apparent reason, usually tight-lipped celebrities such as Coco Martin and Kim Chiu have since broken through their careful veneers and revealed a person that is fiery, sensible, and iron-willed. Undaunted with an unyielding resolve to speak up and fight for the greater justice, these celebrities are standing up and fighting back, which is a most welcome surprise, especially in the curated context of celebrity in the country.

Pasensya na po dahil hindi ko na mapigilan ang sobrang galit na nararamdaman ko. Nakakapagod nang manahimnik at magpigil kung ang mga nasa paligid mo naman ay mga walang pusong tao,” writes Coco Martin on Instagram. “Talaga bang nagawa niyong unahin ang pagpapasara ng isang istasyon na bumubuhay sa napakaraming Pilipino? Ang lahat ng mga tao ngayon ay pagtulong at pag-agapay sa kapwa ang hangarin, lalo na ang ABS-CBN. Napakalaki ng iniambag at patuloy na nagaambag upang umabot ang tulong sa lahat ng nangangailangan. Sila ang inaasahan ngayon ng maraming tao para maghatid ng balita sa bawat araw, sila rin ang daan para maiparating ng mga tao ang kanilang saloobin at pinagdadaanan sa krisis na ito. Sa gitna ng laban natin sa COVID 19, hindi tumitigil ang ABS-CBN para magbigay ng aliw, ligaya at pag-asa sa mga tahanan ng sambayanang Pilipino. At sa gitna rin ng lahat ng ito, hindi iniwan o pinabayaan ng ABS-CBN ang mga empleyado nito, inagapay niya ang bawat empleyado upang makaraos. Hindi ko alam kung anong klaseng mga tao kayo at kung anong klaseng konsensiya ang mayroon kayo para maisip niyong ipasara ang ABS-CBN sa gitna ng daan at libong mga taong nagkakasakit at namamatay dahil sa epidemyang ito.”

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Sure, a lot will argue that despite the shut down, the implications will not be as severe for the celebrities than the average employee of the company. In fact, regardless of the length of time this order is placed upon ABS-CBN and of the COVID-19 crisis, they will be more than fine in the comforts of their well-appointed homes in gated communities, with a considerable abundance of resources to get them through. But that is besides the point here, apart from their primary means of livelihood, they are joining in arms to protect the fundamental rights of free speech and the free press that protect everything from the state to the citizens. This is a bigger problem than ratings and reach. With their scope and platform, they are essentially rising to the occasion not only for themselves, but for those who aren’t as fortunate as they are.

Hindi ito labanan ng diplomasya. Binarubal na tayo, eh. Tinatarantado na tayo, eh. Anong expect natin? Pagdadasal natin sila? Pinagdasal na natin sila. Tiniis na natin sila. Dapat kumilos tayo! Dapat magsalita tayo! Dapat lahat ng mga artista iparinig niyo kung anong nawala sa atin. ‘Yung 11,000 na nasa ABS-CBN, iparinig niyo. Kasi kung mananahimik tayo, aabusuhin tayo,” decries Coco Martin in the online protest on Facebook Live. Driven by the same swell of pent up feelings, Kim Chiu is done relenting to fear. Without the repercussions of a well-sculpted and protected image or of propriety-anchored loyalties, she and a considerable constellation in the galaxy of stars are standing up for what they truly believes in. “Hindi na sapat ang manahimik lang sa situwasyon ngayon. Lalo na’t puno ng trolls, tards, bashers at kung ano man ang tawag sa kanila. Sa mga taong nagtatago sa likod ng sampu, benteng account! Para lang murahin kami! Pagsalitaan ng masama! Apak apakan! Ikinayaman nyo ba yan?! Ang sabihan kami ng masasamang salita?! Oo, hindi ako graduate ng LAW. Pero nagsikap ako para marating kung nasaan ako ngayon DAHIL ‘YUN SA KUMPANYANG ITO NA HANDANG TUMULONG SA BAWAT PILIPINO,” she details on Instagram. “Hindi na kami dapat matakot sa inyo! Kailangan na natin magsalita at ipaglaban ang tahanang nagbigay sa atin ng inspirasyon, ng ngiti sa labi at lumalaban ako ngayon dahil ito ang tahanang naglagay sa akin sa kung nasaan man ako ngayon.”

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Where their opinions and thoughts are explosive and characteristically unhinged, more celebrities are following suit, unapologetic and unafraid, but in a more clear, concise, and calm manner, addressing the heart of the issue with an exercise of objectivity. “Ang nilalaban ko po dito ay mabigyan po ng extension ang prangkisa ng ABS-CBN, kagaya ho ng pagbigay rin po ng extension sa ibang kumpanya na nag-expire po ang kanilang prangkisa pero na-extend po para po dinggin ng kongreso ang kanilang mga kasi. ‘Yun lamang po, nilalaban ko lang po kung anong tingin kong patas, kung anong pantay-pantay, dahil naniniwala din ako diyan,” says Angel Locsin in an video published on her Instagram page. “Mga ma’am at sir. we are not asking for VIP treatment. Hindi po ‘yun. We are asking for a fair chance na ‘yun naman po ang gusto ng kongreso, na ‘yun naman po ang gusto ng senado—tamang oras para sa tamang paglilitis. Ngayon naman ho, kung sakaling mapatunayan na meron pong pagkakasala ang abs-cbn, tama po kayo, ang batas ay batas na dapat pong sundin. Kung meron pong pagkakamali, ayusin; kung sino man ang nagkasala, parusahan. Pero ayusin po natin ang mali.”

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There is a time and place for everything, that we have come to understand, but clearly, this isn’t the time for silence and shut downs, especially at an already deficient and crippled society. “As we face this global pandemic as a nation, fast and accessible information is key to saving lives. By silencing voices we’re doing a disservice to our countrymen who need it most,” says Catriona Gray. “At a time in our history when we should be remembered for how we all came together to serve each other. When we look back, what will be remembered instead?”

With the rug being pulled from underneath what was once presumed to be an impenetrable fortress of good graces in their version of Emerald City, these celebrities are taking off their tinted glasses and now seeing the world for what it truly is: an interlocking web of inefficiencies, inadequacies, and ineptitude that is knotted beyond recognition. Even for just the time being, an equilibrium has been struck, and finally, they are getting it. The age-old adage was right: You really do learn the value of something once it is taken away from you.

Now, while a level of learning and unlearning begins to process for these celebrities, not everyone is exactly singing the blues. As vocal as Coco Martin, Kim Chiu, Angel Locsin, Angelica Pangiban, and Catriona Gray are, risking their reputations on the line, there are still those playing at safe with a lukewarm at best participation that you will have to admit, doesn’t really further the cause being fought for here. In fact, it cracks a fissure in the movement, as these celebrities are being ganged up on and dragged online by tireless trolls. Many iterations of “I am a fan of you, but you shouldn’t say things like these,” “Delete this post, because it is unlike you,” or even, “Just do acting and keep your head out of politics” litter their comment section, which is obscenely unfortunate, because here they are, sticking their necks out for a greater good, and yet they are chastised for it? Besides, who are you to tell them who they are or aren’t?

Putting this into context, you simply extricate their opinions because they are expected to act a certain way according to what you think. They have every right to do so, just as you are free to do so yourself. “Tandaan sana natin na hindi ABS-CBN ang kalaban ngayon. Hindi po ang mga artista na nagpapahayag ng kanilang saloobin ang kalaban ngayon,” says Angelica Panganiban on Laban, Kapamilya. “Ang issue ay free mass testing. Ang issue ay ‘yung pagbibigay ng ayuda para sa mas nangangailangan. Ang issue po ay ang pagiging handa ng ating healthcare system sa isang pandemya. Ang issue ay kawalan ng trabaho ng milyon-milyong Pilipino. Ang issue ay kung saan kukuha ng pagkain ang bawat pamilya. Hindi po ABS-CBN ang kalaban, virus ang kalaban. ‘Yan ang kailangan sugpuin, ‘yan ang kailangan nating sagutin.” 

A simple case of damned if you and damned if you don’t, it all boils down to the flawed support system of the culture of entertainment. With this much access on both ends, people feel the need to correct another on the basis of their own prejudice and presumptions. People, celebrities included, are not pawns for your entertainment. Yes, you hold a certain stake by the mere fawning and flattery of fanaticism, but it doesn’t give you a right to tell them what they can or cannot do. It’s the same as you being ruled out as just a specific thing when there is a multitude of possibilities one can pursue and attain. With their own convictions, there is no box for them to exist in, just like you and me—now more than ever. While it was an overarching statement directed at someone else, Angel Locsin said something that makes sense to this predicament: “How do you expect us to heal as one kung kayo po mismo ang susugat sa amin?”

Finally, here we have people of real influence and power on our side, being the voice that we need, and there is a good population hell bent on tearing them down for it? It isn’t expected and unnervingly uncharacteristic, but it is necessary, especially when there are greater challenges to overcome supposedly as one. They entertain for you, yes, but they exist for themselves. Besides, people are dying, is this the battle really concerned with? Get your act together, because the world might shut down on and go black on you, too. Trust me, that isn’t the future we want. Not now, not ever.

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