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Philippines: ABS-CBN Chairman Steps Down after Broadcaster Loses License

Aie Balagtas See and Nonoy Espina
Manila and Bacolod, Philippines
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ABS-CBN Corp. employees, journalists and supporters rally to protest the congressional decision to cancel the license of the Philippines’ largest broadcasting network, July, 10, 2020.
ABS-CBN Corp. employees, journalists and supporters rally to protest the congressional decision to cancel the license of the Philippines’ largest broadcasting network, July, 10, 2020.
[Luis Liwanag/BenarNews]

The chairman emeritus of Philippine television network ABS-CBN Corp. – shut down by Congress in recent months in a blow to media freedom – tendered his resignation on Thursday, citing “personal reasons,” the media giant announced.

Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III, 68, resigned during a stockholders meeting less than a month after the network shut down its regional broadcast stations after losing its franchise license.

“We thank him for his dedication and leadership in expanding and transforming ABS-CBN beyond television through the years,” Kane Errol Choa, head of ABS-CBN’s corporate communications department, said in a statement.

He hailed Lopez as a “visionary and compassionate” leader who followed in the footsteps of his father, Eugenio Lopez Jr.

“He would always tell the men and women of ABS-CBN that being a part of the network is not a job, but a calling,” Choa said of Lopez.

“We respect his decision, offer him our full support and express our sincerest gratitude for the tradition of innovation, nationalism, and public service that he cultivated in the minds and hearts of all Kapamilyas, past and present,” Choa said. Kapamilya (family members) is ABS-CBN’s catch phrase.

Aside from ABS-CBN Corp., Lopez also stepped down from other family-owned companies including ABS-CBN Holdings Corp., First Philippine Holdings Corp., First Gen Corp., Rockwell Land Corp. and Sky Cable Corp.

Lopez’s resignation came about a month after the firm shut down its regional offices and laid off thousands of workers. It also came more than two months after the House of Representatives, dominated by President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies, denied ABS-CBN’s application for a renewed 25-year franchise.

Mario Bautista, 66, will replace Lopez as the director of the corporation. A member of the board of advisers since 2011, Bautista has served as the company’s general counsel.

On Thursday, Carlo Katigbak, ABS-CBN's president and chief executive, said the network was forced to let go of “nearly 5,000 employees” to stay afloat, and those who were retained were forced to accept pay cuts. The layoffs were announced in July and took effect by the end of August.

“While broadcast television has allowed us to serve the most number of Filipinos and while the businesses and audience that we serve have felt the pain of the shutdown, TV is not our only platform,” Katigbak said.

Resources were diverted to the network’s digital operations, he said. For the first half of the year, the network reported losses of 3.93 billion pesos (U.S. $81 million).

“Now more than ever, we can focus on our core capabilities: create programs that entertain, inspire and bring joy to the Filipino family and deliver news. We continue to face a difficult time in 2020,” Katigbak told stockholders.

ABS-CBN, Rappler anger Duterte

ABS-CBN and online publication Rappler angered Duterte for reporting on his drug war.

Duterte frequently criticized Lopez for allegedly meddling in politics, particularly in the 2016 elections.

In addition, Lopez’s dual citizenship has been questioned by Duterte’s congressional allies. Lopez had insisted that he is a Filipino, but members of congress cast doubt on his allegiance to the country because he holds a U.S. passport as well.

Duterte also accused Rappler Executive Editor Maria Ressa of not being fair. In June, Ressa was convicted of cyber-libel, posted bail and is appealing the case. She faces other charges she calls trumped up.

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